Ottawa waste-to-energy plant almost ready: CEO

The CEO of Plasco Energy Group expects to sign a deal with the City of Ottawa in May to begin directing household garbage to its waste-to-energy plant.

The CEO of Plasco Energy Group expects to sign a deal with the City of Ottawa in May to begin directing household garbage to its waste-to-energy plant.

Plasco has been testing its technology, a process called plasma gasification, on a large scale in Ottawa since firing up its Trail Road demonstration facility three years ago.

A possible contract with the company has the support of Mayor Larry O'Brien, who sees the technology as part of the solution to managing the city's garbage.

But delays in getting the testing plant up and running have forced the city to delay any deal with the company.

Plasco CEO Rod Bryden said Wednesday the wait is almost over, with the demonstration plant needing to pass one final emissions test to satisfy the provincial Ministry of Environment.

"I would think within the month of May likely, [a deal] would be signed," said Bryden. "Maybe a little earlier than that."

Plasma gasification involves heating shredded garbage to very high temperatures in the absence of oxygen. Without oxygen, the waste does not burn. Instead, it decomposes mainly into a glass-like solid and a combustible gas mixture called syngas.

The syngas is then separated and burned to generate power, while other leftover materials such as sulphur, chlorine and heavy metals are separated for disposal.

Large-scale operation still unproven

At full capacity the demonstration plant is supposed to be capable of diverting 85 tonnes of waste a day from the city's landfills while generating enough electricity to run the facility and power 3,600 homes.

The company has attracted investors from all levels of government. The City of Ottawa donated the land for the demonstration plant, the federal government provided $9.5 million and the province lent Plasco $4 million.

But the demonstration plant has so far been running at well under capacity, leading some observers to question whether the technology is viable on a large commercial scale.

"I'm amazed that they've gotten as far as they have," said energy consultant Steve Aplin.

"They're obviously very active in pushing this thing, because they've been quite successful in moving it ahead. I just hopes it turns into a viable commercial and technological enterprise."

Both Plasco and the city said they're ready to sign a contract to build a full-scale operation within a couple of weeks.

With files from the CBC's Alistair Steele