Companies marketing their municipal solid waste gasification systems in Canada are prepared to win over municipal politicians and the general public with claims that their technology is a safe and economic waste management method.
In a previous article (April/May 2006 edition), I wrote about the Ottawa-based of Plasco. This time I’m going to acquaint you with the technology and marketing niche of three Canadian gasification companies: Alter Nrg, Enerkem, and OE Gasification.
In the spring of 2007, Calgary-based Alter Nrg bought Westinghouse Plasma Corporation (WPC) and became a major player in gasification of municipal solid waste. It also has a strategic relationship with Jacoby Energy Development, through its subsidiary Geoplasma, to develop large scale waste-to-energy (WTE) projects in North America.
Like aforementioned Plasco, Alter Nrg utilizes plasma gasification, which is different than straight gasification. Plasma gasification involves the use of a plasma torch that heats municipal waste to over 12,000 degrees.
A big advantage for Alter Ng is that it can draw on the 50 years of R&D on plasma gasification from Westinghouse. It also point to a successful commercial-scale WTE plant in Japan that has operated since 2002.
Enerkem Technologies, Inc.
Montreal-based Enerkem is currently working with the City of Edmonton on the development of a commercial-scale WTE gasification facility. Edmonton chose Enerkem as its partner because the company was able to combine commercial-scale success (a facility located in Spain) with the lowest price.
What makes Enerkem’s gasification system unique is the use of a bubbling fluidized-bed technology and advanced gas conditioning. The company claims that this allows the use of a wide array of feedstocks while achieving a synthetic gas that’s as clean as natural gas.
Edmonton is currently planning a 100,000 tonne/year gasification facility utilizing Enerkem’s technology at a estimated capital cost of $87 million. The facility will produce 12 MW of electricity and an additional 12 MW of useable heat energy. Start-up is expected by the end of 2010.
Waterloo, Ontario-based OE Gasification is marketing a gasification system that was developed in Norway. Whereas Alter Nrg is focused on large-scale WTE projects, OE Gasification markets a module system that handles from about a half-tonne to one tonne per hour (or 3,500 to 7000 tonnes per year). To accommodate more waste, more modules can be added.
In a way that’s similar to some other gasification technologies, OE’s gasification system consists of two-stages. In the first or primary chamber, waste is heated to approximately 600 degrees Celsius in a low-oxygen atmosphere. With little oxygen, the waste does not combust, but gasifies into what is known as a syngas. In the second-stage, the syngas is combusted and the heat is used to generate steam or electricity.
The overall advantage of gasification is that using the syngas is more efficient than direct combustion of the municipal solid waste (as is done in incineration). In some gasification systems, syngas is collected, stored, and then burned directly in internal combustion engines.
Jan d’Ailly, of OE Gasification, describes what makes his technology unique:
“Whereas the principles of gasification are well known, we have been able to apply it in a small-scale modular and patented approach,” he says.
When marketing its module system in Canada, OE gasification can point to seven installations in South Korea that use this technology to treat municipal waste.
“If major municipalities in North America begin to focus on local management of their waste, rather than exporting it for landfill, then sales in WTE systems, including thermal gasification systems, will do well,” states Jack Lauber, a research associate at Columbia University’s Earth Engineering Center and a professional chemical/environmental engineer. Based on his more than 30 years of experience, he’s of the view that WTE systems, including thermal gasification, are a safe and economic alternative for municipalities.
With respect to the economic viability of WTE and thermal gasification, Lauber notes, “New York City is currently paying about $130 per tonne to have its waste shipped and disposed in various mid-Atlantic and southern states. At such a cost per tonne, WTE and thermal gasification is a very competitive option.
“Moreover, there would be the added benefit of combined heat and power (CHP) that could be captured by a facility,” he says. “It would also reduce GHG emissions since generally WTE systems generate only about five per cent of the GHG emissions of landfills. Fuel consumption and toxic diesel air emissions from long-distance hauling of waste to landfills could also be significantly reduced.”
John Nicholson, M.Sc., P.Eng., is a consultant based in Toronto, Ontario. Contact John at firstname.lastname@example.org