Gas prices are again spiking, which is why it may be the perfect time to look in your trash can. Come again?
Yes, what was a joke in Back To The Future is now coming true: Enerkem has perfected taking Municipal Solid Waste (aka landfill trash), along with agricultural and forest product residues, and turning them into Syngas, which can be converted into various biofuels, used for power, or formed into plastic. The unused remnants of this process can be used as an aggregate in construction materials.
Coupled with the recycling, composting, and upcycling currently underway, this could mean that next to nothing need go to the landfills, and that which is already there could be put to use as a resource.
How does it work?
According to Enerkem, the waste is shredded into a fluffy material that can easily pass through a processor to be gasified. The resulting gas is cleaned and conditioned with water. To become useable liquid, the material undergoes catalytic synthesis.
What’s most intriguing about Enerkem is its localization of fuel production: Rather then having a prohibitively expensive factory and process, effectively relegating it to a niche energy provider, Enerkem’s factories are essentially prefab, able to be assembled onsite easily in both rural and urban locations. According to Enerkem the factory is compact and modularized, making expansion from its base capacity of 10 million gallons/year easy.
This means that that both the sourcing of raw material and manufacturing of the resources can be done locally, increasing energy independence while decreasing the footprint of transporting it.
Questions that arise are: How cleanly do the resulting fuels burn as compared to their conventionally sourced counterparts? Yes there’s energy/resource savings in making the material, but will the secondary uses by other companies for plastic, etc, be just as resource/energy intensive? Can the resulting plastic be recycled?
Questions aside, Enerkem’s model holds a lot of promise.
Paul Smith is a sustainable business innovator, the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, and has an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco. He creates interest in, conversations about, and business for green (and greening) companies, via social media marketing.