There was much criticism in the summer of 2013 when the Region of Durham held a celebration over the opening of its energy-from-waste facility. I did not criticize them, knowing the pain and effort many of the staff and politicians went through to get the facility built. If it had been a landfill solution vs. an incinerator, a party would have also been deserved. The fact of the matter is that getting government approval for a waste management facility is a long, byzantine process.
Anyone entering the process does not come out without any scars. Perhaps medals were in order at the celebration.
ECA Approval Responsible Energy
A private company, Responsible Energy Inc., is the latest enterprise to embark on the journey to a commercial WTE facility. In April, the company passed a major milestone: obtaining an Environmental Compliance Approval (ECA) from the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC). It took the MOECC over a year to approve the ECA application.
The ECA permits the company to build and operate a pilot-scale thermal reactor for a research and development program to determine the effectiveness of Responsible Energy’s technology at converting biomass feedstock to syngas. The demonstration unit will have a capacity of 10 tonnes per day.
Although the technology is designed to manage a wide variety of feedstocks including medical waste and liquid industrial waste, the waste approved for destruction in the Ontario pilot system only includes biomass (i.e., sawdust and wood chips), municipal solid waste, and biosolids from wastewater treatment plants. The primary reason for not seeking approval for all feedstocks was that the company wants to demonstrate the capability of the system in stages.
When built, the facility will be located in Augusta Township, approximately a two-hour drive west of Montreal. Construction of the facility will begin once $5.5 million in funding is secured.
Getting to this point took Responsible Energy almost 10 years. The company formed in 2007 when Gordon Fraser decided to take his 17 years of experience as a Marine Systems Engineer and automation expert and enter the waste-to-energy (WTE) field. His response to the question of why he left a 3M corporation to enter the waste sector he said, “My deep belief that there has to be a better way to manage waste other than burning or burying.”
Besides Fraser, the core of the Responsible Energy team includes Graham Houze, co-inventor of the technology who is a professional engineer with over 30 years of experience as a chemical engineer, and Rob Jenson, another seasoned professional engineer with experience in product research, development, and design.
The patented technology described as Free Radical Gasification (FRG™) was originally developed in the 1980s. Fraser claims that precise temperature control in ranges greater than 5,000 degrees Celsius is the secret of the patent system. At these very high temperatures, molecular bonds are broken apart creating synthetic gas and an inert granular aggregate.
According to Fraser, the cost of the destruction of waste is cheaper than conventional incineration or plasma torch gasification.
Fraser stated that a 120-tonne per day unit was built in the 1990s using the technology and located in Naples, Italy. It was an operational success, but new ownership made a business decision at the time to mothball the plant. The system that will be built in Ontario is a pilot scale unit that is approximately 1/5 the capacity of a commercial unit.
The next hurdle for Responsible Energy is to raise the $5.5 million it will take to construct the small-scale demonstration facility. Assuming that it can raise the funds, built the plant, and demonstrate that it can effectively generate syngas from the permitted feedstocks, it will then be looking at the next major hurdle—getting approval for a commercial-scale system and getting the funding to build it.
The path of success for Responsible Energy may be through its ability to process a variety of feedstock including liquid waste and medical wastes. Fraser acknowledged the capability of the system, stating, “The FRG conversion process is extremely flexible—capable of handling both solid and liquid waste. This enables enormous opportunities throughout the waste management sector.”
If the company can get environmental approval for a commercial system that processes premium cost waste feedstock such as medical waste and liquid industrial wastes, it won’t be stuck competing against the cheaper landfill option as would be the case if it focused only on MSW as feedstock.
If Responsible Energy does make it through to the point that it has a ribbon cutting ceremony for its first commercial facility, a celebration would be in order.