Nova Scotia

Company aiming to convert plastics into fuel seeks environmental approval

If approved, the Chester-area project would produce about 9,000 litres of synthetic diesel per day.

Chester-area project would produce about 9,000 litres of synthetic diesel per day

Sustane Technologies plans to take in about 10 tonnes of plastic per day and expects to produce about 9,000 litres of synthetic diesel per day. (John Robertson/CBC)

A company on Nova Scotia's South Shore that plans to turn plastic waste into diesel and kerosene says it expects no significant environmental effects from its operations.

Sustane Technologies submitted its environmental assessment studies to the province for approval on Wednesday.

The company, located about 25 kilometres north of Chester, plans to bring in 40,000 to 50,000 tonnes of municipal garbage per year and convert it into biomass pellets and liquid fuel. Some metals are also expected to be recovered.

Sustane has already received permits for the overall project, but was required to submit an environmental study for the pyrolysis plant, the part of the project that would create fuel from plastic.

The company's co-founder and president, Peter Vinall, said the operation will have an "extremely low impact."

"We do burn a small amount of hydrocarbon fuel that we generate, but it's like a furnace in your house. It's not a large volume," he said. "The very small amount of emissions from the plant is just overwhelmed by the massive benefit to the overall process."

Vinall estimates about 90 per cent of the incoming garbage will be diverted from the landfill, and the remaining 10 per cent will go to the Kaizer Meadow dump, which is right next to Sustane.

9,000 litres of diesel per day

In the initial stages, the operation would take in about 10 tonnes of plastic each day. The plastic is separated, cleaned, shredded and then heated until it vaporizes.

The vapour is then captured and condensed into a liquid.

"Because the plastic started its life as oil, really what we're doing is just cracking those hydrocarbon molecules down into shorter and shorter molecule sizes until they're in that liquid range."

Sustane Technologies plans to convert municipal garbage into biomass pellets, fuel and recovered metals. The company is located about 25 kilometres north of Chester, next to the Kaizer Meadow landfill. (Sustane Technologies)

The pyrolysis plant will produce both synthetic kerosene, which will be used on site to cook the garbage, and about 9,000 litres of synthetic diesel per day, which will be sold.

Vinall said since the vaporization takes place in a closed vessel without oxygen, it minimizes airborne contaminants.

The company's environmental assessment found that the pyrolysis plant could have a negative impact on the atmosphere and on birds. But the documents states air quality in the area would be "well within the limits" and the risk to birds from the plant's flare stack could be minimized by turning the flare down at night or when it's foggy during spring and fall migration.

Film plastics acceptable

The plant would be able to tackle film plastics, which include shopping bags and plastic wrap. Since China stopped accepting those plastics, Halifax and other jurisdictions have grappled with how to dispose of them.

Earlier this year, the provincial Environment Department gave the Halifax Regional Municipality an exemption to recycling rules and gave it permission to send some plastic to a landfill in the province.

The municipality ended up sending about 100 tonnes of stockpiled plastic to a landfill outside the province before the exemption was granted, and has found other markets for its film plastics.

Matt Keliher is the manager of solid waste for the Halifax Regional Municipality. He says a lot of plastic recyclables that once were sent to China will now likely end up in an out-of-province landfill. (Mary-Catherine McIntosh/CBC)

Matt Keliher, Halifax's manager of solid waste, told the CBC the municipality has not sent any film plastics to a landfill in Nova Scotia, and has not used a landfill to dispose of any plastic since the initial 100 tonnes.

Sustane plans to run some trials on municipal film plastics later this year.

"It meets the criteria of the kind of plastic that's suitable to be reformed back to oil, so for sure, that's something interesting to us," said Vinall.

The public can submit feedback on the proposal until Aug. 3.

The environment minister has until Aug. 23 to decide whether to approve the project.