At the end of August this year dignitaries and officials gathered to break ground on the new Enerkem plant in Edmonton, signaling the dawn of a new era in waste management and alternative fuel production.
When completed, this facility — the first of its kind — will convert municipal waste into ethanol and methanol, creating advanced transportation fuels while at the same time reducing local emissions of greenhouse gases and delivering a sustainable alternative to traditional landfilling.
It’s the ultimate win-win-win: for our environment, for consumers and for cities confronted with the challenge of handling growing amounts of garbage. The plant will initially produce up to 36 million litres of biofuels each year, making positive use of 100,000 tonnes of sorted municipal solid waste that would otherwise take up space in landfills.
It could be the shape of things to come — not only for Canada, but for the world.
This initiative is just the latest example of how innovative thinking is helping us confront — and begin to reduce — our reliance on crude oil. The urgency to do so is growing. The highly respected International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts that global energy use will rise by 40 per cent by 2030 as compared to 2007. Oil prices will increase substantially. Supply will be stretched. We’ll all be paying more for gas and heating oil. And our environment will be paying the price of increased emissions and increased energy use related to fuel production.
That’s why potentially revolutionary projects like the Enerkem facility are so important. And that’s part of the reason that the federal government has established a Renewable Fuels Standard to mandate that a minimum amount of ethanol — currently 5 per cent — be included in all gasoline. Fulfillment of that policy alone will cut carbon emissions by 4.2 megatons, the equivalent of removing one million cars from our nation’s roads.
Renewable fuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel, have in recent years entered the mainstream of our energy supply. Both available for sale across the country, blended with traditional gasolines. Both can be used right now in all modern vehicles. And both offer tangible benefits to the people, companies and governments that use and rely on them.
The positive influence of biofuels in Canada is proven and growing. A recent third-party assessment found that renewable fuels contribute an annual positive economic impact in excess of $2 billion — an impact that will only grow as projects like the Enerkem plant come online.
Communities and families are benefiting from the construction and operation of biofuels facilities, and by increased farm incomes related to renewable fuel manufacturing. Ethanol and biodiesel production means good jobs, real economic growth and more taxes being paid to all levels of government.
“Even making allowance for the opportunity costs of alternate investments, and the opportunity costs of alternate feedstock sales, renewable fuels plants in Canada represent a positive net economic benefit,” concludes the assessment from the independent econometric firm Doyletech Corp.
This influence will expand as the industry develops the next generation of advanced biofuels — made from such things as farm and forestry residue and, as we’re seeing in Edmonton, from municipal waste.
The Enerkem project is unique in its detail but several of the benefits that will accrue from it are common to other biofuels facilities, including:
• Combating climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions as compared to gasoline and diesel fuel.
• Attracting the good, quality jobs of the burgeoning green-energy economy.
• Developing the technologies and processes that will help establish Canada as a world leader in clean technology and renewable energy.
Ultimately, our world will be one in which clean-burning renewables have usurped traditional gasoline as the world’s primary transportation fuel — bringing significant economic and environmental benefits and the comfort of domestic energy security.
That day remains far off. But investments in projects like the new Enerkem facility — and in the science that will drive the operation — are investments in the future: in creating good jobs, in helping Canada move beyond oil, and in doing our part to protect our planet for future generations.
Gordon Quaiattini is President of the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association in Ottawa, Ontario. Contact Gordon c/o Lindsey Ehman, firstname.lastname@example.org