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Download November 08, 2022

Large potential for carbon storage in Alberta. Waste-to-energy with carbon capture.

Large potential for carbon storage in Alberta. Waste-to-energy with carbon capture.

Process Ecology is constantly searching for industry-relevant news. Recently, it was announced the intent of a Norwegian company to open a waste-to-energy facility in Alberta. This is nothing new in most Western European countries, but the idea is something uncommon in North America. In a CBC article, the mayor of Vulcan, AB, stated the reason for this trend very clearly: "We've got so much land, and land is cheap, and we can bury it (municipal waste), hide it". He is also clear in saying that this behavior will, sooner or later, as he said: "come back to haunt us". 

We went back to look at the reasons for this company coming to Western Canada and look at their technology, to understand the scope and impact of such a solution in reaching our emission reduction targets. Let's take a look: 

1. The motivation

Varme Energy says on its website that one of its plants can eliminate 3.7 billion kg of garbage from entering a landfill in 25 years. With that amount of waste, they can generate up to 60 MWh of electricity for over 90% of the year. They recognize that waste sector emissions are significant and often ignored by policymakers and the general public. They see great potential in Alberta because of our large underground storage potential for sequestered CO2. A large municipality like Calgary or Edmonton could benefit from clean waste management while at the same time generating power for the grid and even heat for industries or space heating.

2. The technology 

Varme uses the Aitos Gasification technology that involves the combustion of waste in a low oxygen content chamber at high temperatures. This process generates syngas (a mixture of gases, mainly CO and H2) from solid waste. An ash byproduct is also generated. The Syngas is combusted in an oxygen-rich atmosphere and heat is transmitted to a boiler where steam is produced. The steam can be used either for electricity generation via a steam turbine or used directly for industrial heating.

Below is a diagram of this process available on the Aitos Gasification technology (AGT) website. A key factor to unleash the potential of this technology is a carbon capture and storage technology attached to the process. This could be done via a pre-combustion capture technology, in which CO in the fuel gas is oxidized to CO2 and separated from the H2, or a post-combustion technology, in which the CO2 is removed from the fuel gas after combustion.

Final thoughts 

Alberta has a large potential for carbon storage (see Alberta Innovates report) due to our particular geology. Carbon capture technologies attached to a waste-to-energy facility can reduce significantly emissions in the waste sector, in particular in jurisdictions that lack a robust waste landfilling system (Central/South America, South East Asia, for example). Also, in the accounting of avoided emissions, there is a need to consider emissions associated with waste pretreatment (crushing, volume reduction, reduction of water content), as well as the potential impact associated the ash treatment and landfilling. In the CBC article, it is mentioned that the Federal government sees waste reduction and recycling taking priority over this type of waste-to-energy technology. However, this seems to be a great complement to add to our toolset to reach our 2030 national emissions targets. Additionally, projects like this effectively add an interesting approach to helping to reduce the carbon footprint (primarily when CCS is added) in the electricity generation sector.

References:
- The original CBC article: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/varme-energy-from-waste-alberta-1.6622299
- Varme Energy's Website: https://www.varme.ca/services-1
- Aitos Technology: https://aitos-gt.com/
- 2030 Emissions Reduction Plan: https://www.canada.ca/en/services/environment/weather/climatechange/climate-plan/climate-plan-overview/emissions-reduction-2030.html
- Alberta Innovates paper on CCUS: https://albertainnovates.ca/app/uploads/2022/06/AI-CCUS-WHITE-PAPER_2022_WEB.pdf
- TEAM Emissions - Waste Sector: https://team-emissions.com/

By Jairo Duran, PhD

Jairo joined Process Ecology in February 2020 as an R&D Engineer. He started his career in 2012 as a Scheduling and Optimization Project Engineer with IST International in his native Colombia, where he was involved in the development of supply chain models for the oil industry. Jairo has a Ph.D. degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Calgary and a Master’s degree in Chemical Engineering from Universidad Nacional de Colombia. During his Ph.D. and Postdoctoral fellowship, he focused his research on energy sustainability and low-energy intensity heavy oil extraction and upgrading. During his time in Colombia, he investigated novel methods to recover and transform different by-products from the ethanol industry. His interests range from process intensification and plant-wide optimization to environmentally responsible processes. Jairo enjoys his spare time learning about history, astronomy, and Spanish/Latin American cooking, however, he is also a very avid soccer player and novice hiker.

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