Alberta plasma gasification project could turn garbage into fuel

It may sound pie-in-the-sky, but the Alberta government is calling for proposals showing innovation in plasma gasification — which would essentially vaporize waste and convert it into fuel.

Request for plasma gasification proposals in rural Alberta aims to help economy and the environment

A plasma gasification plant in Austria. The province is interested in applying the technology on a smaller scale in rural Alberta to help the economy and the environment.

It may sound pie-in-the-sky, but the Alberta government is calling for proposals showing innovation in plasma gasification — which would essentially vaporize waste and convert it into fuel.

Babatunde Olateju is a scientist with Alberta Innovates - Energy and Environment Solutions (AI-EES), the provincial body that just sent out a call for proposals showing innovation in plasma gasification, a process that could dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and perhaps even eliminate landfills in the province.

Plasma gasification uses intense heat — up to 4,000 C — to convert waste to gas. Due to the higher temperatures used in the process, some toxic materials, including oil and gas by-products, can be burned and used right along with household garbage.

"So instead of having us essentially depositing waste at landfills, we actually use them to produce value-added products — things like electricity, heat, biofuels, but in this case, the plant would be producing methanol," he said.

The request for proposals is looking for organizations that can demonstrate the ability to convert waste at a smaller scale, making the process viable for rural Alberta. 

"We believe that greenhouse gas mitigation, along with economic diversification of Alberta, particularly in rural Alberta that will facilitate development, is in line with the government of Alberta's objectives as well," said Olateju.

Greenhouse gases

He points to the fact that methane is 25 times more potent as a greenhouse gas compared to carbon dioxide. Approximately 20 per cent of Canada's methane emissions come from landfills. 

"So mitigating or reducing our reliance on landfills is in our best interest if we'd like to realize a lower carbon economy and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions footprint," he said. 

Successful vendors would have up to a maximum of nine months to prove their technology at which time the province will make decisions about the future use of the technology. 

AI-EES has a target of reducing the amount of waste heading to landfills 50 per cent by 2030, but Olateju says the organization is already looking beyond that target. 

"In the long term we'd like to realize, we envision an Alberta where we wouldn't have the need for landfills," he said. 


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