Remember that scene at the end of Back to the Future where Doc Brown shoves some garbage into the “Mr. Fusion Home Energy Reactor” that was attached to his time-traveling DeLorean? That film came out a few years before I got my driver’s license and I remember thinking that it would be really cool to just toss a few banana peels into the car instead of stopping off at the gas station.
To my extreme disappointment, Back to the Future’s vision is still just science fiction and we don’t all have our own “Mr. Fusion Home Energy Reactors”. However (silver lining!), we are making progress on the process of turning waste into energy.
Suncor, the proud owner of Petro-Canada, is giving a second life to commercial and industrial waste (no banana peels though) as part of a new partnership to build a biofuel plant in Quebec. On Dec. 8, Enerkem, a world leader in converting waste to biofuels and chemical products, along with Suncor, Shell, and Proman, with the support of the Québec and Canadian governments, announced they were working together on the construction of a biofuel plant in Varennes, in the Greater Montréal area.
The new facility in Québec - Varennes Carbon Recycling (VCR) - will convert more than 200,000 tonnes of commercial and industrial non-recyclable waste and wood waste into an annual production of nearly 125 million litres of biofuels. Once complete, the facility will contribute to greenhouse gas reductions equivalent to removing almost 50,000 vehicles off the road annually.
Suncor has previously invested in Enerkem and has worked with the company to scale up operations at its Enerkem Alberta Biofuels (EAB) plant located in Edmonton, Alberta by seconding Suncor people with expertise in operating industrial facilities. EAB is the first commercial-scale plant in the world to turn non-recyclable, non-compostable mixed municipal solid waste into cellulosic ethanol, a popular biofuel. Combusting a biofuel significantly reduces carbon emissions, therefore, when the ethanol is blended with our petroleum products (our fuel is currently 10% ethanol) we’re burning cleaner fuel as we drive.
So, for the foreseeable future, we’ll need to keep putting the banana peels in the composter rather than our fuel tanks. But, investments like the VCR facility help bring us closer to a low-carbon future.