A growing number of Canadian-based companies are betting on the renaissance of thermal treatment to dispose of waste. Once considered taboo in some parts of North America (Ontario actually banned the incineration of municipal solid waste for some time), the move toward zero waste and away from landfilling has brought thermal treatment back into the discussion of waste management alternatives.
There are a number of reasons for the rebirth of waste-to-energy (WTE) technologies in Canada. For starters, the technology has improved. Despite claims by some opponents that all thermal treatment technologies should be considered “incinerators in disguise,” emissions data from demonstration tests and growing support, both publically and politically, shows otherwise.
Incineration involves combustion with excess air. The byproducts of incineration include bottom ash and fly ash. Newer thermal treatment technologies control the amount of air or do not use air at all. Also, the residues remaining from thermal treatment are either glassy slag and/or fine particulate matter (char).
Some of the more popular advanced thermal treatment technologies include gasification, pyrolysis, and plasma.
Gasification involves the degradation of waste at temperatures between 900 and 1400C in a low oxygen atmosphere to produce a combustible gas — referred to as “syngas,” and an inert (possibly vitrified) solid residue.
Pyrolysis is the thermal degradation of waste at temperatures in excess of 200C in the complete absence of air. The end product is a mixture of solids (char), liquids (oxygenated oils) and syngas. Inert materials (i.e., metals) are not affected by pyrolysis.
Plasma uses a plasma torch at temperatures between 3,000 to 8,000C in an oxygen-starved environment to completely decompose input waste material into very simple molecules in a process similar to pyrolysis. Products include syngas and a vitrified solid residue.
Companies with facilities
There are a surprising number of Canadian-based companies vying for opportunities in the perceived gold mine that is WTE. The chart shows a summary of the some of the players in the WTE space in Canada.
Alter NRG Corp. is based in Calgary and trades on the TSX (TSX: NRG). The company utilizes Westinghouse plasma gasification technology. Two full-scale municipal waste facilities in Japan have been using the technology. Most recently, the company signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the County of Dufferin in Ontario to develop a 75 tonne per day WTE facility. The plant is projected to be fully operational by late 2012.
Elementa Group, based in St. Catharines, Ontario is a privately held Canadian Corporation founded by Jayson and Leonard Zwierschke. The technology used by the company is steam reformation. Waste is broken down through the application of high-temperature steam in an indirectly heated rotary kiln. The syngas is formed from the process. The company has a three tonne per day pilot plant operating in Sault Ste. Marie and plans are underway to construct a full-scale facility that will be operational by April 2011.
Enerkem, based in Montreal, is a private company majority-owned by institutional and clean technology investment companies. The company utilizes a propriety thermo-chemical gasification process to produce syngas that can then be converted into liquid fuels. The company has operated a pilot facility in Sherbrooke Quebec since 2003.
Kearns Waste Sciences Group (KSWG) Inc. — based in North Sydney, Nova Scotia — is privately owned and operated. Quantum Solutions Technology Ventures (QSTV) Inc. markets the system worldwide and has several international orders pending the success a full-scale test burn of a 20 tpd unit currently scheduled the Spring of 2010. The technology consists of two-stage combustion similar to state-of-the-art incinerators. A 5 tpd pilot facility was tested in 1999. A 20 tpd per day system is complete and will be tested this spring.
Plasco Energy Group, headquartered in Ottawa, is a private Canadian company with a number of investors. Plasco technology uses plasma gasification to produce syngas. The company has a 100 tpd demonstration facility operating in Ottawa and is currently negotiating with that city to build and operate a 400 tpd facility. Plasco has also signed an agreement with the Town of Red Deer, Alberta to build and operate a 300 tpd facility.
Companies with plans for Canada
A number of other Canadian-based WTE companies are moving along the path to commercialization. Although they don’t currently have a system in place in Canada, they claim to have technology with unique capabilities that separate themselves from the competition. Some of those companies include the following:
• OE Gasification of Waterloo, Ontario: Focused on supplying module gasification systems to treat a variable waste stream. Technology is currently being utilized in Norway and South Korea.
• Yield Energy of Toronto, Ontario: The company is focused on the anaerobic digestion of organic waste to produce methane gas.
With the emergence of a number of players in the WTE sub-sector in Canada, plans for construction of a number of facilities, and government interest in alternative energy sources to fossil fuels, we could see a mini-building boom of such facilities in the near future.
NOTE: If you want your company added to the WTE Canadian companies table, please contact the author.
John Nicholson, M.Sc., P.Eng., is a consultant based in Toronto, Ontario. Contact John at email@example.com