Inuvik pellet project aims to turn waste cardboard into warmth

Inuvik sends around 100 tons of waste cardboard to its landfill each year. A pilot project of the Aurora Research Institute hopes to change that.

Aurora Research Institute hopes project will slash the amount of cardboard sent to landfill

Patrick Gall of the Aurora Research Institute in Inuvik, N.W.T., is shown alongside a machine that turns waste cardboard into pellets that can be used to fuel for boilers. (Patrick Gall)

Researchers in Inuvik, N.W.T., have hit upon a way to turn waste cardboard into a home heating fuel that can be mixed in with conventional wood pellets.

If the pilot project is successful, it will create local jobs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and conserve landfill space, said Patrick Gall with the Aurora Research Institute.

Gall said approximately 100 tons of cardboard enters Inuvik's landfill every year. It can't be recycled because the cost of shipping it south is too high.

"In terms of waste streams that we have access to, cardboard is probably the most visible and a lot of people talk about how they wish they could do something with it," Gall said. 

"So all of those conversations kind of developed this idea eventually of, well, we should try and compress it and burn it." He added that several local businesses that generate a large amount of cardboard waste are enthusiastic about having a local use for the material.

These pellets are made from waste cardboard. They can be mixed in with conventional wood pellets and used in boilers and wood stoves. Though they produce more ash, researchers in Inuvik hope they'll become a way to divert cardboard from the town's landfill. (Patrick Gall)

Researchers shred the cardboard into tiny particles. Then the particles are fed into a pellet maker, which heats and compresses the material. The heat effectively melts the polymers in the cardboard, which allows it to be shaped into pellets. When the pellets cool they retain their form.

The next step will be to figure out which proportions of wood and cardboard pellets work best and how to tweak the settings on boiler systems so they burn the mix most efficiently. Gall said it appears the ideal pellet mix consists of five per cent cardboard. 

"From our research, one of the biggest things is that the cardboard, to burn fully, just needs a little bit more air than wood pellets do," Gall said. "The majority of [pellet boilers] have a forced air system, so the boiler just needs to be told to run that fan a little bit faster when you're burning those pellets."

Mill could churn out 60 tons of pellets per year

In addition to reducing the amount of fuel that needs to be shipped up the Dempster Highway, Gall said cardboard pellets can also cut down on methane and other gases that can be created when cardboard breaks down unevenly in a landfill.

Burning the pellets still creates CO2 emissions, but those emissions have a less potent greenhouse effect than methane.

"By burning [cardboard pellets], we can sort of guarantee that we're getting at least best case emissions even compared to just decomposing in the landfill," Gall said.

The pellet mill could likely consume around 60 tons of cardboard per year, and could be expanded to handle 80 tons a year, Gall said. 

The next step for the project is to produce more pellets. He hopes the Institute will be able to turn over the boiler to the local company, Delta Enterprises, that's hosting it and allow the company to operate it. 

Written by Chris Windeyer based on an interview by Marc Winkler


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