Developing and implementing an industrial technology innovation that takes on some of today’s most pressing environmental issues – waste disposal, dependence on petroleum, and climate change – is not a small task. Avoiding the trash, including unrecoverable plastics, from being dumped in oceans, landfilled or incinerated, but also to replace the use of fossil sources to produce everyday goods, is the need of the hour. Imagine harnessing the value of non-recyclable solid waste by converting it into renewable chemicals, and low carbon transportation fuels. An environmentally comprehensive and smart ‘circular economy’ solution where waste becomes a valuable and renewable resource to produce high-value products.
One of the leading companies, Enerkem has developed a disruptive technology that converts non-recyclable municipal solid waste (i.e. garbage) into clean fuels, and green chemicals with better economics, and greater sustainability than any other technologies.
The Journey of Enerkem
Founded in 2000, Enerkem is the world-leading cleantech waste-to-biofuels company. Enerkem’s proposition is its patented thermochemical recycling process which enables it to convert carbon-rich residues or municipal solid waste into a synthetic gas. Once cleaned and conditioned, this gas is converted into clean, renewable biomethanol, and cellulosic ethanol biofuels. These products can then be used directly or leveraged to make numerous goods such as plastics, glues, paints, textiles, coatings, and transportation fuels.
This ground-breaking technology was initially inspired by the research & development led by Dr. Esteban Chornet, Professor Emeritus at the Université de Sherbrooke (Québec, Canada). Professor Chornet and his son Vincent saw the opportunity to develop this revolutionary technology and bring it to the market. Today, the company is setting a new standard in smart waste management, helping communities achieve greater waste recuperation and diversion from landfill and incineration by up to 90%, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The Visionary & Sagacious Leader of Enerkem
Vincent Chornet, the CEO of Enerkem, has been the guiding force behind Enerkem’s stellar evolution since the company’s inception. He has generated over C$750 million in various financings and spearheaded the development of a game-changing carbon recycling technology. This has led to the launch of Enerkem’s and the world’s – first full-scale commercial facility of its kinds in Edmonton, AB, Canada.
Chornet’s vision and leadership have ushered Enerkem during the transition towards the commercialization of its proprietary technology. The company owes its success to the rigorous approach it adopted while scaling up from pilot- to demonstration- to commercial-scale, and the strong team built by its CEO.
Under Vincent Chornet’s expert guidance, Enerkem has established itself as a leader-player in the field of advanced biofuels as well as green chemicals and has grown to more than 200 employees. Today, the company is leveraging its extensive intellectual property estate acquired through the years of unprecedented high technology development as well as its own innovative modular manufacturing infrastructure to implement more bio-refineries around the world.
Securing the Environment with its High-Efficiency
Unlike natural gas and syngas combustion, or the use of mechanical biological treatment to produce biogas for electric power; that releases greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions into the atmosphere, Enerkem’s proprietary waste-to-biofuels, and chemical technology reduces GHG emissions by displacing gasoline with its ethanol/methanol used as a low carbon transportation fuel and by avoiding methane emissions from landfilling or CO2 emissions from incineration.
In addition, Enerkem’s low-severity thermochemical process is energy efficient, as it operates at low temperature and pressure than traditional Waste-to-Energy solutions. It does not involve combustion of the residual materials. The resulting clean and renewable products reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 60% when compared to gasoline.
Changing the World One Refinery at a Time
With a noble mission, Enerkem is working towards recuperating carbon-rich material and building a true circular economy by turning waste into a source to produce renewable value-added products. The model is based on the construction of bio-refineries using Enerkem’s innovative technology that generates revenue from the waste it takes, and the products it sells to refiners. These refiners are mandated to blend a minimum content of renewable fuels and to chemical companies looking for greening their products. Enerkem also sells its technology as a part of the joint ventures. Additionally, it generates additional revenues by selling the equipment necessary for the joint ventures to build Enerkem facilities.
Transforming with Clean & Green Technology
Enerkem’s innovative proprietary thermochemical technology has been rigorously scaled up over the company’s 15-year quest for a global cleantech manufacturing breakthrough that led to the world’s first commercial operation plant, inaugurated in Edmonton (Alberta, Canada) in 2014.
Its ISCC- certified and EPA-approved municipal solid waste-to-cellulosic ethanol production facility is the world’s first collaboration between a waste-to-biofuels producer and a large metropolitan center to address waste disposal challenges. It is becoming a model for many municipalities around the world that are looking for a sustainable and economical alternative to landfilling and incineration.
Tackling Major Challenges with Rigor & Dexterity
“Developing the bio-economy is no small undertaking, and what many believed impossible to achieve has since turned into a disruptive clean technology that has led the world’s first commercial-scale waste-to-biofuel company”, believes Vincent.
There was a great deal of ambition and determination that mobilized the founders from the get-go, and led the Enerkem team through all the critical stages.
Right from ensuring proper financing throughout the phases of growth to developing a sound business model, while building & operating the world’s first facility of its kind has been a challenge that Enerkem has skillfully tackled. Another task was to establish strong relationships with its project partners which the company has successfully overcome by gathering a group of key Tier 1 investors.
Placing its Employee’s Interest First
Enerkem meticulously combines its technology with its award-winning team of experts to deliver a competitive solution to the real world environmental problems. From the day the company incepted with its four employees to the current day with some 200 employees, and counting, Enerkem’s management team has led the development of the company’s values.
It is based on creativity, discipline, and sense of urgency, self-fulfillment, collaboration, as well as the core competencies that every single employee has adopted, and abides. The CEO was the instigator of what is known today as the ‘Enerkem Way’, both from an employee culture as well as from an overarching innovation, and project engineering standpoint. While speaking about his excellent team, Vincent says, “While looking for the highest employee satisfaction, and reminding everyone that building a multinational whose mission is to change the world; it requires hard work and relentless focus.”
Enerkem: The Future of Clean Fuels
Since its establishment, Enerkem has forged tremendous partnerships with governments, municipalities, and global industrial partners. Since the launch of its first commercial-scale waste-to-biofuel facility, the company has also launched other projects all over the world.
Its first European project, with a consortium led by AkzoNobel, Air Liquide, and the Port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands; will manage more than twice the volume of the Edmonton facility. It plans to process up to 360,000 metric tonnes of household and industrial waste, plastics, and wood residues into up to 220,000 metric tonnes per year of low-carbon, ‘recycled methanol’.
Recently, the company also joined forces with Suez in Spain to build a waste-to-methanol plant near Barcelona. Utilizing 375,000 metric tonnes of plastic, paper, and textiles, the facility will produce 265,000 metric tonnes of renewable fuel annually. Currently, only 10% of the waste is being recycled in the region. The new project is expected to boost it over 70%.
Earlier this year, Enerkem signed an agreement with Sinobioway Group worth over C$125M to manufacture, license, and launch the construction of some 100 state-of-the-art facilities in China by 2035. Finally, the company is slated to begin the construction of a new facility in Varennes, Quebec in the coming months and is also developing similar projects in the U.S. and across the globe where markets are driving demand.