New study in the publication Nature finds compostable coffee pods a superior alternative to plastic pods

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Written by Calvin Lakhan, Ph.D, Co-Investigator: “The Waste Wiki” – Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University

Recently, the esteemed academic journal Nature, published a study by University of Tennessee – Knoxville, which undertook a Life Cycle Assessment of compostable coffee pods. This study specifically examined the economic and environmental viability of compostable pods, relative to more conventional alternatives made from plastics.

The study found that compostable coffee pods readily broke down when included as part of the organics stream, resulting in both a cost savings of 21% relative to disposal, in addition to *improving* the quality and value of the compost.

These findings largely echo what was observed in a York University study conducted in the fall of 2018, which found that compostable coffee pods readily broke down in existing composting facilities in Ontario, and resulted in superior economic and environmental outcomes when compared to plastic and aluminum pods.

Why these findings are of particular importance in an Ontario context, is that detractors of compostable pods (which include the City of Toronto, Environmental Defense etc), continue to question the viability of compostable pods in existing composting facilities, and have even gone so far as to claim that the majority of compostable pods are being landfilled. Not only is this not true, but it adds further confusion to the conversation surrounding what materials are suitable for the green bin program.

The University of Tennessee study adds further credence to our initial findings, and adds some much needed clarity to a topic that is increasingly becoming politicized.

For any questions, comments or concerns regarding the York University study, please contact lakhanc@yorku.ca.

St. Albert, Alberta envisions neighbourhood WTE’s

As reported in St. Albert Today, mayor Cathy Heron of St. Albert, Alberta sees the opportunity of partnering with developers and incorporating waste-to-energy facilities into neighbourhoods over the next five years.  Located just northeast of Edmonton with a population of 66,000, St. Albert has one of the highest rates in the province according to the Recycling Council of Alberta at nearly 65 percent.

The mayor’s vision of the future can be traced back to a Smart City Master Plan first prepared by the City in 2016 and recently updated.  The plan calls for smart approach to waste management that would include the identification of partnerships, the utilization of new technologies and innovations, better practices that better serve the community, and a reduction of the ecological footprint.  The Smart City Master Plan calls for the exploration of collaborative ecosystems and the circular economy as a way of reducing waste and developing new economic models:

  • Reduce the influx of single-use plastics and other products that are difficult to
    recycle
  • Develop new ways of dealing with waste that currently cannot be recycled
  • Examine waste-to-energy technologies
  • Ensure that hazardous waste is processed appropriately

In the view of the mayor, the household waste generated in neighbourhoods could be used to generate heat, electricity, or some other source of fuel (i.e., transportation fuel). “Once you have that energy output, you can do anything with it, right? We could heat our sidewalks with it, we could heat our homes with it … we could sell the electricity off the grid and make it a revenue generator”, the mayor stated in her interview with St. Albert Today.

Currently, municipal waste from the city is disposed of at the Rose Ridge Landfill, approximately 20-km from the city core.  Utilizing the waste as fuel within the neighbourhoods it in generated will result in a reduction in the cost of transportation along with a reduction in greenhouse gas generation.

A 2018 report funded by the Dutch government found that microgrid technologies could make a local “techno-economy” 90 percent self-sufficient, through the decentralized sharing of energy at the local level between multiple households.

Vision of a decentralized microgrid Community (Photo Credit: Metabolic)

With respect to the negative stigma associated with a waste-to-energy facility being located in the near vicinity of a residential neighbourhood, the mayor stated in St. Albert Today, ““You can disguise the (unit) on what looks like a house. Garbage would be picked up in the area and delivered right within that area to a waste-to-energy generator.”

There is already a potential private partner interested in the mayor’s idea.  Averton Homes is planning a three-phase development, which would include 800 residential units, seniors housing and commercial properties.  “We are early in those conversations, but there’s a willingness on both parts to explore it because there’s a need for us to think creatively as an industry, and I think there’s a need for the municipalities to do so as well,” said Averton president Paul Lanni in St. Albert Today.

The City is already funding $1 million towards a one-year pilot demonstration of a waste-to-energy gasification system at the Edmonton Waste Management Centre.  The total capital cost of the pilot system is estimated to be $4 million.  St. Albert is relying on partnerships and grants to cover the remaining balance.

There is skepticism that St. Albert’s smart city approach to waste management would be economical.  A white paper on waste-to-energy provided to city council in early 2019 found a gasification/pyrolysis-based system would cost $57 to $806 per tonne of waste, depending on the technology used.

 

Waste incineration: Why isn’t it mainstream in North America?

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Written by Sarah Welstead, Eco Waste Solutions

Somehow, Sweden makes it cool

The other day, an old friend of mine – who doesn’t really know much about what I do here at Eco Waste, or really even what Eco Waste does – posted a link to a piece in The Independent about how Sweden has gotten so good at turning its trash into energy that it now imports other countries’ trash just to keep its own facilities going.

My friend’s comment on the link was: “This is awesome! Why aren’t we doing that here?”

Those of us in the waste-to-energy field are, of course, well aware that Sweden has long been the benchmark for successful waste incineration.

While containerized waste incineration and thermal combustion technologies have been growing and improving over the past few years, they aren’t really a new idea: The first waste-to-energy (WTE) facility in the United States opened in New York City in 1898, and technology developers have been trying commercialize gasification and pyrolysis facilities for municipal solid waste (MSW) since the 1970s.

So why would someone like my friend – who’s smart, well-educated, up-to-date on current events and with a background in the sciences – have such a gap in her knowledge of waste-to-energy, and completely unaware that environmentally-progressive countries lie Sweden have successfully left landfills behind when it comes to disposing of untreated waste?

Because the industry simply hasn’t done a good job of educating the public. And it’s time we got smarter about this.

It’s time we addressed the 3 core reasons for resistance to waste-to-energy.

Reason 1: Everyone freaks out when they hear the word ‘incineration’

Outside of the waste management industry – and sometimes within it, unfortunately – the word ‘incineration’ conjures apocalyptic images of town dumps burning out of control, or tire fires, or some guy burning his garbage in his backyard. And many people have heard of the health hazards associated with military ‘burn pits’ that have so often been the way military units deployed in remote locations have dealt with waste they can’t transport out. All of these things are, of course, bad.

But ‘incineration’ in a waste-to-energy or cleantech context is in fact a totally different thing. It’s still ‘combustion’, but it’s combustion that happens in highly-controlled environments, using super-high temperatures. Smoke and anything toxic is then filtered through hard-core scrubbers that ensure nothing dangerous gets into the air, and anything left over – inert bottom ash and more concentrated fly ash – are easy to dispose of, safely.

This isn’t vaporware; it’s not untried technology; it’s not even a shell game that doesn’t withstand scrutiny. High-temperature, advanced incineration which reduces waste by up to 90% with safe emissions has been around for years.

Reason 2: Waste-to-energy requires a long-term vision – and most politicians prefer immediacy

The primary competition for incineration-based waste-to-energy facilities in municipalities and communities when they’re considering a new waste management solution are landfills. Landfills are relatively easy to set up (though they do require proper construction), they’re familiar, and when compared with waste-to-energy facilities, they tend to cost less in the near term.

Incineration-based waste-to-energy facilities generally require a more significant up-front investment. WTE requires less land than a landfill, but does require money to build the incineration, containment and pollution-control facilities and associated technology.

For the first 10-15 years of operation, the landfill can look like the better investment: If it’s been set up correctly, and the community size stays within predicted growth levels, your landfill won’t cost a whole lot to run, manage or maintain – the ROI looks pretty good.

But at 15-20 years, landfills can start to look like a bad investment. What started as a plot of land in the middle of nowhere has now been surrounded by the city and is pulling property values down; it’s starting to near capacity so you need to find a whole new site for the garbage; and all that stuff accumulating in the ground has caused groundwater pollution problems that no one anticipated – and suddenly that ‘cheap’ solution is far more expensive than planned.

The cleantech waste-to-energy incineration facility, on the other hand, is still operating just fine. It doesn’t require more land, isn’t causing more pollution, and in fact is improving efficiency as it upgrades its technology.

Unfortunately, the people most able to effect a shift from landfills to WTE are politicians, who often control budgets and strategic initiatives for the communities in which they live. And when they need to be re-elected, they opt for choices which look better in the short-term, which means they aren’t often good at making the case for the long-term benefits of incineration-based waste-to-energy.

Reason 3: No one knows enough about garbage

While 66% of Canadians believe that protecting the environment is important, even at the risk of stifling economic growth, they, like the citizens in many other developed countries, are still generating 2.7kg of waste per capita every single day.

And far too many people still think that recycling is going to solve the problem, even though recycling only addresses a small fraction of the waste generated.

Why? Because those of us who know better – those of us in the thermal conversion industry, particularly – aren’t making the case very well. We see the media running stories that focus on community protests against a proposed waste-to-energy facility and don’t speak up to explain that ‘incineration’ doesn’t mean uncontrolled burning. We don’t invest in lobbying politicians to help them make the case for thermal conversion to their constituents. We don’t invest in marketing and PR efforts to help the public understand that modern incineration is much more environmentally sustainable than they realize. And we often resist partnering with other thermal conversion companies to drive the industry forward because we worry about getting or maintaining a competitive advantage.

So what do we do?

It’s time for those of us in the thermal conversion and waste-to-energy industries to get more vocal about what we do – and why it’s so smart. It’s time to stop assuming that no one wants to talk about garbage and start talking about how waste-to-energy is not just interesting but effective, and how it’s giving us a real opportunity to improve our communities and the planet. It’s time to stop being embarrassed by talking about our careers in ‘garbage’ and start evangelizing about cleantech.

Because when people know more, they start thinking like my Facebook friend: “This is awesome! Why aren’t we doing that here?”


About the Author

Sarah Welstead is the Marketing Director at Eco Waste Solutions, a Canadian-based company that is a leading supplier of modular thermal treatment and waste-to-energy technology. Eco Waste Solutions has more than 80 WTE installations in 18 countries.

Record Investments in Start-ups focused on waste packaging reduction

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According to an article in CrunchBase, there has been a record investment in cleantech start-ups focused on waste packaging reduction.

According to CrunchBase data, there are at least seven companies over the past three years that have raised over $20 million (U.S.) in capital that are in that are focused on sustainable packaging.

The eco-packaging start-up that has raised the most capital, Zume, originally started out as robot-enabled pizza prep and delivery business before pivoting to sustainable packaging after acquiring a company called Pivot Package. The company is focused on reducing the amount of food that is wasted by attempting to balance the supply and demand for food. Zume uses real-time food consumption data and predictive analytics to help food companies better predict demand, connect it with production and drive better resource decisions down the food supply chain.

One of the seven start-ups noted in the database is Ontario-based GreenMantra Technologies, a company that produces value-added synthetic waxes, polymer additives, and other chemicals from recycled plastic. GreenMantra claims that it is the first company in the world to up-cycle post-consumer and post-industrial recycled plastics into synthetic polymers and additives that meet specific performance requirements for industrial applications.

Researchers produces biodegradable plastic from Cactus plants

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Led by Sandra Pascoe Ortiz, a chemical engineering professor at the University of the Valley of Atemajac, scientists at the Universidad del Valle de Atemajac in Guadalajara, have successfully create biodegradable plastic from the juice of the prickly pear cactus.

The researchers trim cactus leaves, and then put them into a juicer and create a bright green liquid. After it’s mixed with other natural materials and processed, it later undergoes a process that transforms the cactus juice into a biodegradable plastic.

Currently it’s being made as prototypes at Oritz’s lab and the process takes 10 days to make. Extensive research is still needed to test the efficiency and to scale up the production of the plastic alternative.

The non-toxic plastic takes one month to biodegrade in soil, and a week in water. The project was supported by a scholarship for graduate students awarded by the National Council of Science and Technology in Mexico.

The bioplastic created from the cactus juice is nontoxic if it’s eaten. “The cactus of this species contains a large amount of sugars and gums that favor the formation of the biopolymer,” says Professor Sandra Pascoe Ortiz, the lead researcher.

Dr. Pascoe Ortiz hopes the bioplastic can replace most single-use plastic products in the world. “I hope the cactus-based plastic will help reduce the impact of solid waste in Mexico and around the world,” stated Pascoe Ortiz.

Could Renewable Natural Gas Be the Next Big Thing in Green Energy?

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Written by Jonathan Mingle, Freelance Journalist and republished with permission of Yale Environment 360

In the next few weeks, construction crews will begin building an anaerobic digester on the Goodrich Family Farm in western Vermont that will transform cow manure and locally sourced food waste into renewable natural gas (RNG), to be sent via pipeline to nearby Middlebury College and other customers willing to pay a premium for low-carbon energy.

For the developer, Vanguard Renewables, the project represents both a departure and a strategic bet. The firm already owns and operates five farm-based biogas systems in Massachusetts; each generates electricity on site that is sent to the grid and sold under the state’s net-metering law. The Vermont project, however, is Vanguard’s first foray into producing RNG — biogas that is refined, injected into natural gas pipelines as nearly pure methane, and then burned to make electricity, heat homes, or fuel vehicles.

“Producing RNG for pipeline injection and vehicle fueling is the evolution of where everything is going” in the biogas sector, says John Hanselman, Vanguard’s CEO.

Biogas has been around for a long time in the United States, mainly in the form of rudimentary systems that either capture methane from landfills and sewage treatment plants and use it to produce small amounts of electricity, or aging digesters at dairy operations that might power a local farm and send some surplus power to the grid. But those are fast becoming outdated and out-produced by a new wave of large-scale renewable natural gas projects that are springing up around the country. These ventures are tapping into heretofore unexploited sources of energy: some are capturing the vast amounts of methane generated by manure from some of the 2,300 hog farms that dot eastern North Carolina; some are building biodigesters to turn clusters of large California dairy farms into energy hubs; and some are seeking to divert food waste from landfills and transform it into vehicle and heating fuels.

Biogas systems could produce enough renewable energy to power 3 million homes in the U.S.

Renewable natural gas is reaching a tipping point for several reasons: An increasing number of third-party operators like Vanguard are relieving farmers and landfills of the burden of running their own energy systems and are introducing more sophisticated technologies to capture methane and pump it directly into pipelines. Some states, including California, are passing laws requiring the development of renewable natural gas. And utilities across the country are starting to support these new initiatives, as evidenced by the new partnership between Dominion Energy and Smithfield Farms — the world’s largest pork producer — to develop new hog waste biogas projects. For proponents, the ultimate goal is to replace a significant portion of the fossil-derived natural gas streaming through U.S. pipelines with pure methane generated by human garbage and animal and agricultural waste.

“If you can recover energy before sending what remains back to the soil, that’s a great thing,” said Nora Goldstein, the longtime editor of BioCycle Magazine, which has covered the organics recycling and anaerobic digestion industries for decades. “You look at all those benefits and say, ‘Why aren’t more people doing this?’ The key is you need to do it correctly.”

The untapped potential — especially of the billions of gallons of animal manure and millions of tons of food waste generated each year in the U.S. — is immense. According to a 2014 “Biogas Opportunities Roadmap” report produced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Energy, the U.S. could support at least 13,000 biogas facilities, fed by manure, landfill gas, and biosolids from sewage treatment plants. Those new systems could produce 654 billion cubic feet of biogas per year — enough renewable energy to power 3 million homes. And a study by the World Resources Institute estimated that the 50 million tons of organic waste sent to landfills or incinerated every year in the U.S has the energy content of 6 billion gallons of diesel fuel, 15 percent of all diesel consumed by heavy-duty trucks and buses.

A truck delivers food waste to an anaerobic digester at a Massachusetts farm. VANGUARD RENEWABLES

Experts say that the growing utilization of biogas could help lower greenhouse gas emissions from some of the toughest sectors to decarbonize — transportation, industry, and heating buildings — even as it reduces heat-trapping methane emissions, keeps organic waste out of landfills, and prevents manure runoff into rivers and water supplies. Through anaerobic digestion, biogas can be made from any organic material — food scraps, agricultural residues, even the sludge left over from brewing beer. These materials are fed as a slurry into tanks where microbes feast on them in the absence of oxygen, destroying pathogens, producing methane and other gases, and leaving a nutrient-rich fertilizer as a byproduct.

In the field of renewable natural gas, the U.S. is playing catch up with Europe, which has more than 17,400 biogas plants and accounts for two-thirds of the world’s 15 gigawatts of biogas electricity capacity. Denmark alone, a country of 5.8 million people, has more than 160 biogas systems. For a period last summer, 18 percent of the gas consumed in Denmark came from RNG produced by its anaerobic digesters. Flush with their success, Danish bioenergy firms estimate it will be feasible to fully replace the country’s natural gas with renewable natural gas within 20 years.

The former manager of the EPA’s anaerobic digestion programs, Chris Voell, was so impressed with Denmark’s biogas operations — which are highly engineered to digest a mix of household food scraps, residuals from food processing businesses, and livestock manure — that he now works for the Danish Trade Council to introduce Danish digester technology and business models to the U.S market.

As with most climate initiatives, California is leading biogas efforts in the U.S. The state’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) — which provides incentives for fuel producers to increase the amount of low-carbon or renewable fuels they supply and sell — is a key component of the state’s ambitious climate plan and has catalyzed the rapid growth of a new, lucrative market for RNG as a vehicle fuel.

A growing crop of specialized firms builds, owns, and operates anaerobic digesters in the U.S.

Companies like Maas Energy Works and California Bioenergy have responded to these incentives by installing digesters at California’s dairy farms at a rapid clip. Maas has built 17 so far, with 12 more under construction and 32 others in development, according to its website. Both companies are racing to take advantage of valuable LCFS incentives.

And both are among a growing crop of specialized, investor-backed firms that build, own, and operate anaerobic digesters in the U.S. “With every day the industry is gaining more credibility,” Voell says. “We’re seeing more professional third-party companies. And in order to see this scale, it takes those professionals to come in and build 10, 20, 50 projects, and access a lot of equity investors. They want a portfolio of projects to invest in, not just one.”

In North Carolina, the abundant feedstock is hog manure. And the latest entrant in the RNG race is Smithfield, the world’s biggest grower of hogs. North Carolina is the second-largest pork-producing state (after Iowa). Each day, more than 2,000 of its hog farms flush manure from 9 million pigs into vast lagoons, which emit equally vast quantities of methane. Ninety percent of those farms are contract growers for Smithfield.

Late last year, Smithfield launched a joint venture, Align RNG, with a Virginia-based utility, Dominion Energy, to invest $250 million in covering lagoons and installing anaerobic digesters at nearly all of its hog finishing farms in North Carolina, Utah, and Missouri over the next 10 years. Construction is already underway on four projects that will produce enough RNG to power 14,000 homes and businesses.

A covered lagoon manure digester on Van Warmerdam Dairy in Galt, California. MAAS ENERGY WORKS

These systems will all be modeled on Optima KV, a biogas project in Kenansville, North Carolina, in the heart of hog country. Last year, Optima KV became the first project in the state to produce and inject RNG into an existing natural gas pipeline.

The factors that made Optima KV possible — along with the waste from 60,000 pigs on five nearby farms, and a centralized system to clean and upgrade the gas — include a state renewable energy portfolio standard law signed in 2007. That law contained a requirement that utilities source at least 0.2 percent of their electricity from swine and poultry waste by 2020. That mandate helped push Duke Energy, one of the biggest utilities in the U.S., to sign a 15-year agreement to purchase 80,000 million BTUs of RNG from Optima KV. That biogas will directly displace the use of fossil natural gas and generate 11,000 megawatt-hours of power in two of Duke’s power plants.

Vanguard’s new operation in Vermont represents an alternative model for scaling up RNG production. The company’s digesters are more complex and expensive — engineered to produce a consistent output of gas even as feedstocks and other conditions change — than the systems being built in California. The California systems basically cover huge dairy waste lagoons with plastic membranes and then extract, refine, and pipe the gas to customers.

“We take a more high-tech approach primarily because we need to produce a lot more gas from a much smaller footprint,” Hanselman says. “We don’t have the luxury of a 10,000-cow dairy.”

RNG has flourished in Europe because of generous subsidy programs that are lacking in the U.S.

Along with the daily stream of 100 tons of manure from the Goodrich farm’s 900 cows, and 165 tons of food waste, a number of factors have come together to make Vanguard’s Vermont project possible. In Middlebury College, Vanguard found a large customer eager to slash its carbon footprint. A new law about to take effect in Vermont will ban food waste from landfills starting in 2020, forcing grocery stores and food processors to find new places to send their waste.

And Goodrich Farm will get free heat, monthly lease payments for hosting the system, and bedding for its cows from the leftover digested solids — cost savings that can offer a lifeline for dairy farmers in a period of disastrously low milk prices.

Hanselman, Vanguard’s CEO, says that a key element to expanding RNG is taking the burden of running the system off of farmers. Hanselman encountered many irate farmers who had negative experiences with a previous generation of digesters that had been sold to them as a low-maintenance, low-cost solution to their nutrient management problems. In fact, digesters are finicky machines, sensitive to changes in temperature and the variability of organic material in feedstocks. Says Hanselman, “We tell our farmers, ‘Your job is to make milk, healthy cows, and take care of your fields and soils. Let us run these machines.’”

RNG has flourished in Europe in part because of generous subsidy programs; such comprehensive policies are lacking on the federal level in the U.S., which has a chaotic patchwork of regional and state markets, utilities, incentives, and policies. But Hanselman and others foresee that in the next several years, more states will mandate renewable natural gas production, further strengthening the fledgling biogas market.

“It feels extremely similar to solar,” says Hanselman, who used to run a solar company. “We are in the early days of RNG. Everyone will be running from program to program trying to figure out which states are beneficial, and how to best get RNG into the marketplace.”

Market forces alone, however, won’t be enough to usher in a biogas revolution. The single policy that could supercharge the growth of biogas and RNG in the U.S., most industry observers and insiders agree, is a federally legislated price on carbon. But given that a carbon tax or comprehensive climate bill aren’t likely to emerge any time soon under the current administration, Hanselman says the next best thing the federal government could do is reinstate the investment tax credit for digester systems, which lapsed in 2016.

Despite these challenges, Voell thinks there is now enough momentum to see biogas finally gain widespread traction as a renewable energy source in the U.S.

“I’m more encouraged now more than ever, because I’m actually seeing some projects getting built,” he says. “The states are stepping up with policies. And we’re seeing a revolution now where gas utilities are coming on board. Utilities wield a lot of power. If they decide RNG is something they’d like to see more of, then we’ll start to see the needle move more on the policy front.”

This article has been republished with the permission of Yale E360. It was originally published at Yale E360.


About the Author

Jonathan Mingle is a freelance journalist who focuses on the environment, climate, and development issues. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Slate, The Boston Globe, and other publications. He lives in Vermont

HSBC Canada launches Green Finance products to support Canadian businesses

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HSBC Bank Canada is supporting Canadian companies to meet their environmental and sustainability goals with the launch of new Green Finance products, the first of their kind in Canada aligned to the Loan Market Association’s Green Loan Principles.

The new range – available for businesses of all sizes from small to medium enterprises (SMEs) through to large corporates – includes term loans, commercial mortgages and leasing products.

Linda Seymour, Head of Commercial Banking at HSBC Bank Canada, said: “As companies look to become more sustainable, they are investing in green projects and activities. We can continue to support their aspirations through our Green Finance products, which support businesses as they pursue sustainable and environmentally-focused activities.”

HSBC’s latest Navigator survey reveals that 95% of Canadian businesses are feeling the pressure to be more sustainable. Their top motivations in implementing sustainability practices are to grow sales (29%), improve their employer brand (24%) or improve transparency and traceability of their products (22%).ii

The Green Finance range includes:

Term Loans
The minimum Green Loan starts at $500,000, enabling a broad range of companies to access finance to support sustainability projects.

Commercial Mortgages
Access loans for purchasing new property, as well as refinancing or making sustainability improvements to existing buildings.

Leasing
Leasing allows companies to use their working capital to keep their business running, instead of financing long-term green assets.

A green loan allows customers to showcase their green credentials to stakeholders by demonstrating that a portion of their funding is ring-fenced for green activities. Green credentials are becoming increasingly important for businesses providing goods or services to large enterprise customers, as these organizations need to demonstrate their supply chain’s sustainability credentials, either to employees or investors.

Targray, a major international provider of innovative materials for photovoltaic manufacturers – and a long-time HSBC Canada customer – is the type of company that might benefit from HSBC’s Green Finance products. CFO Michel Tardif, said: “Targray is focused on supporting the growth and sustainability of novel energy industries through collaboration, innovation and value creation. To do that, we need partners who understand how to financially support companies in their sustainability efforts. We are glad to be working collaboratively with HSBC to create new solutions that fuel the world’s transition towards sustainable energy. Their green loan offering is certainly a step in the right direction.”

Linda Seymour added: “Businesses have asked for products that are aligned to their sustainability goals, and we are confident this suite of Green Finance products will support them.”

HSBC Bank Canada has aligned its Green Finance offering to the Loan Market Association’s Green Loan Principles – a set of market standards and guidelines providing a consistent methodology for use across the wholesale green loan market. This initiative forms part of HSBC’s global commitment to provide $100 billion in sustainable financing and investment by 2025.

Eligible activities include:

  • Renewable energy, including storage and smart grids;
  • Pollution prevention and control, including reduction of air emissions and greenhouse gas control;
  • Clean transportation;
  • Climate change adaptation;
  • Sustainable water and wastewater management;
  • Sustainable management of living and natural resources and land use;
  • Waste prevention, reduction, recycling; waste to energy; products from waste.

HSBC Bank Canada
HSBC Bank Canada, a subsidiary of HSBC Holdings plc, is the leading international bank in the country. We help companies and individuals across Canada to do business and manage their finances internationally through three global business lines: Commercial Banking, Global Banking and Markets, and Retail Banking and Wealth Management.

Ontario: Changes to Biogas Rules for Farms to Increase Economic Opportunity in Renewable Natural Gas Sector

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The Government of Ontario recently launched consultations to identify potential changes that would allow farmers to expand the emerging renewable natural gas market in Ontario and make the province a North American leader in the biogas sector. The consultations will focus on changes designed to reduce red tape and grow untapped economic opportunities for on-farm biogas operations.

“Today we are launching consultations designed to unlock the economic potential of the biogas industry,” said Ernie Hardeman, Ontario’s Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. “These consultations will focus on identifying potential changes that would enable the biogas sector to access new markets for renewable natural gas through red tape reduction. We want these consultations to pinpoint potential changes that could enable Ontario’s $35 million dollar-a-year biogas sector to grow by up to 50 per cent over the next five years.”

Consultations will look at opportunities to enable biogas upgrading to produce renewable natural gas on-farm, ways to streamline approvals, and requirements for off-farm and agricultural feedstocks.

These consultations could lead to potential changes that would also help Ontario food processors, providing an alternative to landfill disposal that could potentially save the sector millions of dollars while encouraging the recycling of nutrients to reduce greenhouse gases. The government will encourage the return of organic materials to agricultural land to build soil health and fertility for crop production.

These potential changes would add to the more than 80 proposed actions in the Better for People, Smarter for Business Act that would streamline requirements and eliminate unnecessary regulations for businesses in Ontario.

Public Input

Planned consultations on the proposal will focus on reducing red tape in regulations for anaerobic digesters in order to grow untapped economic opportunities for on-farm biogas operations. The consultations will also look at opportunities to enable biogas upgrading to produce renewable natural gas on-farm, ways to streamline approvals, and requirements for off-farm and agricultural feedstocks. Comments on the proposal can be directed to nmaconsultation@ontario.ca.

Pyrowave to team up with Loblaws to further develop its plastics microwave recycling technology

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Pyrowave, a Quebec-based plastics microwave recycling start-up, was recently announced as one of three winners in the Community of Leaders Innovating for Corporations (C.L.I.C.) challenge. As a winner, the company will be mentored by Galen Weston, Executive Chairman of
the Loblaw grocery chain.

Pyrowave converts plastic waste into chemical products used to make virgin-like (monomers) plastics, in order to make 100% polystyrene recycling possible, be it foam or rigid.

The C.L.I.C. Challenge matches CEOs from leading companies with pioneering Canadian-based start-ups that offer promising technological solutions in their industries. This first edition of the Challenge was open to mature start-ups, in the process of becoming series A or in a later stage of development, and focused on key industrial sectors that form the backbone of the country’s economy: agri-food, advanced manufacturing and extractive resources.

To further accelerate their development, Pyrowave has been invited to the Business Council of Canada’s members meeting in January. It will be a unique opportunity for them to pitch their innovative solution to the leaders of over 100 of Canada’s largest corporations.

The second edition of the C.L.I.C. Challenge is already under way with a new cohort of CEOs that will expand the Community of Leaders for Innovating Corporations, and details will be revealed early 2020 at clicchallenge.ca.

Pyrowave’s patented microwave catalytic depolymerization System

Lithium Batteries – Rethink, Recycle

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Written by Zachary Gray, B.Eng.Biosci., Chemical Engineering & Bioengineering

Electricity is in, and fuel is out — The Dutch Royal Shell’s 50-year plan is in motion. Much to longtime shareholder’s chagrin, the 112-year-old global behemoth is pivoting their business model away from fossil fuels in the decades to come in favor of more sustainable forms of energy, including wind, solar, and hydrogen.

The Dutch Royal Shell transition is not limited to ethereal boardroom speak, placating the dry martini-sipping corporate climate change activists, but aligns with the tenets of the Paris Accord and emerging trends in consumer behavior: more electric vehicles and charging stations, less crude oil. Indeed Canadians with ambivalent, and often geopolitically divergent attitudes towards their energy sector are purchasing electric vehicles (“EVs”) at an accelerating pace: EV sales increased 125% from 2017 to 2018, putting an additional 100,000 on our roadways.

The problem to avoid is exchanging one environmental sin for another. There is a greater understanding among the general road-faring population that the fuel they are pumping into their cars, on the way to doing more important things with their time, combusts, adding to the greenhouse gases accumulating in the atmosphere. Meanwhile, charging one’s EV adds a degree of separation between drivers and their energy source.

Generally, driving an EV in Ontario, where 93% of the province’s energy comes from carbon-free sources, is far better for the environment than the combustion box on wheels sitting in the queue at the Shell station. Not so much in Kentucky, where 92% of the state’s energy comes from low-energy-density coal; or worse: Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, or Texas, where they burn far more to keep the lights on – or, EVs cruising along their streets. An EV’s positive environmental impact is only as good as its energy supply and battery.

Often, the EV’s greatest sin is its battery. In a study comparing Tesla’s Model S alongside a comparable internal combustion engine vehicle, the former’s manufacturing process generated 15% more greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions. Despair not, however, the same study acknowledged that a Tesla generally rack up fewer GHGs over its lifespan compared to the latter.

For context, Tesla’s position is far better than the first generation of Toyota’s hybrid vehicle, the 1997 Prius. Between mining nickel for its catalysts in Northern Ontario and the spiderweb of trans-continental shipping bringing together the car’s disparate components across Toyota’s decentralized manufacturing sites, the first Prius’s GHG emissions over the course of lifetime dwarfed those of military-grade Hummers – which, some readers may be surprised to learn, are not known for their fuel economy. Tesla’s cathode and electrolyte are its central issues.

Lithium-based Batteries

There are three components to EV’s lithium-based batteries: the anode, made from graphite; the lithium electrolyte; and cathode, often a mixture of nickel, aluminum, and manganese cobalt. Tesla’s cathodes, a combination of nickel, cobalt, and aluminum, are the main environmental culprit; the lithium is salt on the wound.

Analysts estimate that Argentia, Bolivia, and Chile hold 15% of the world’s lithium reserves. Abundance, however, is not the problem: water usage and isolation are. Clean water is scarce high in the Andes, and mining operations use immense volumes in their salt brine ponds to separate the lithium from magnesium and potassium that are also present. Lithium brine ponds now litter the famous Salar de Uyuni salt flats. While TIME magazine may celebrate the wealth potential, and the relative cleanliness of lithium mining throughout these South American countries, consumers should remain vigilant to ensure extractors are not given carte blanch over the region’s resources – besides, who gets a medal for not placing last?

Lithium Mining Operation

For some perspective, the Guangdong province in China used mining to further its economy, much like the three South American nations are doing, feeding the world’s growing appetite for electronics with its vast supply of heavy metals – perfect for batteries and processors. Now, it costs $29/kg to remediate soil in the region. Nor do few publications outside of Canada’s right-wing press celebrate the economic value that the Oil Sands mines deliver to Albertans.

There is also the social impact to consider outside of the environmental damage brought on the world’s growing appetite for electronics and the batteries that keep them charged.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the largest global producers of cobalt, a critical element in Tesla’s cathodes. There are also an estimated 35,000 child laborers working in the Congo’s cobalt mines. At $83,000 per metric tonne, the high commodity prices for this scarce metal are incentivizing the less than stable Congolese government to turn a blind eye to the increasing rate of child enslavement in their country. Meanwhile, citizens in developed nations enjoy faster charging times for their phones and better performance in their EVs, for which they can thank cobalt’s presence. 

That’s how it is: Fossil fuel reliance diminishes as society increasingly coalesces around electronics and sustainable forms of energy. Metals such as lithium and cobalt, play a critical part in the transition’s material infrastructure. However controversial, mining provides the initial access to these vital materials.  Consumers can take heart knowing that battery components, while not non-renewable, are recyclable – unlike the proceeding technology. The rare earth elements can feed a closed-loop supply chain as they enter circulation while robust recycling technologies ensure their place within it.

The importance of battery recycling

Tesla ensured that recycling as part of its battery’s supply chain. The company recycles 60% of spent cells from its cars, reuses a further 10%, and landfills the rest due to technical difficulties. They use Kinsbursky Brothers in North America and Umicore in Europe. Both of these recyclers use traditional furnace techniques called pyrometallurgy to process the spent batteries.

Four high-level events place during the pyrometallurgical process; they are:

  1. Preparing the furnace load, including the battery components and coke;
  2. Treating the off-gas, filtering the batteries’ vaporized plastic parts, before discharging to the atmosphere;
  3. Removing slag from the kiln, including aluminum, silicon, and iron;
  4. Completing the smelting process.

The resultant product is a copper, lithium, cobalt, and nickel alloy, representing 40% of the batteries contents, while The treated off-gas and slag account for the remaining 60%. For reference, a Model S has 7,100 battery cells, weighing 540 kg, meaning that the heating-based approach recovers ~220 kg of valuable cathodic materials, representing approximately 80-85% of the original amount, for the industry’s growing closed-loop supply chain. 

Altogether, the pyrometallurgical recycling of lithium-ion batteries reduces GHG emissions by 70% over using new resources, further lowering the environmental impact for the next generation of EVs.

Umicore’s process can handle 7,000 metric tonnes per year, equivalent to 35,000 EV batteries. Right now, the company is focusing on better serving smaller-scale electronics and pivoting their technical model towards less-energy intensive forms of battery recycling. Fully embracing hydrometallurgical techniques, the process extracting metal ions from aqueous solutions and forming salts, is the new frontier in lithium battery recycling. One Canadian company stands out in the emerging technical group: Li-Cycle.

Li-Cycle Corporation

The Mississauga-based Li-Cycle Corporation is piloting its two-step, closed-loop recycling technology in Southern Ontario. First, the “Spoke” mechanically reduces the size of the battery’s components, leading to the “Hub,” which leverages hydrometallurgical technologies to yield high-value salts. In addition to emitting few GHGs and expending little solid waste, the company also treats and reuses its water and acid. Encouragingly, the company achieved a >90% recovery rate for critical metals during their pilot-scale operations.

Li-Cycle Technology™ is a closed loop, processing technology that recycles lithium-ion batteries. The technology recovers 80-100% of all materials found in lithium-ion batteries.

Li-Cycle’s technology minimizes energy usage and operational inputs while outperforming competitor’s return. Going forward, the company will separate the two components business units, better serving regional markets: Multiple Spokes, each processing 5,000 tonnes of used batteries per year, will supply a 15-20,000 tonne Hub. A constellation of Li-Cycle’s units would increase the availability of critical metals from other electronics, such as cell phones, for the rapidly expanding EV market.

Concluding remarks

Tesla recently announced its concern about the impending shortage of metals critical to their batteries’ chemistry. In the future, companies such as Canada’s Li-Cycle and Umicore will be able to mediate discrepancies in the EV supply chain. Used batteries languishing in the dump are harmful to the environment and damage the growing, technical infrastructure around recycling rare earth metals. Mining brings the batteries’ minerals into circulation while recycling keeps them in use.

Recycling will be an integral part of the EVs’ industrial arc as they proliferate in usage, while the energy paradigm continues to shift from fossil fuels to sustainable forms of electricity and new generations of battery technology minimize the use of precious minerals.


About the Author

Zachary Gray graduated from McMaster University with a bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering & Bioengineering.  He has worked with several early-stage cleantech and agri-industrial companies since completing his studies, while remaining an active member of his community.  He is enthusiastic about topics that combine innovation, entrepreneurism, and social impact.