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Alberta Researchers develop method of accelerating anaerobic digestion up to 70%

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Researchers from the University of Alberta claim they have developed a method that accelerates the anaerobic digestion process by up to 70 percent. The key step to speed up the anaerobic degradation process is the addition of conductive materials to the feedstock such as granular activated carbon.

Environmental engineering master’s student Bappi Chowdhury (left) and supervisor Bipro Dhar in the lab with a “digester” they are developing that uses microbes to convert a mixture of food waste and fat, oil and grease into renewable biomethane. (Photo: Sean Townsend, Folio)

Environmental engineering master’s student Bappi Chowdhury and his colleagues at the University of Alberta found that the added activated carbon in the feedstock functions as a hub for microbes looking to dump or pick up electrons as part of biochemical processes. 

The results from the granular activated carbon to the organic feedstock of the anaerobic digester resulted in decomposition times being reduced from 20 to 25 days to just seven. The researchers also tested the degradation rate with the addition of the rock mineral magnetite and found similar, although not as effective, results.

Researchers also experiments with different levels of food waste with fats, oils, and grease (FOG). Based on there testing, they found that a mixture of 70 percent food waste and 30 percent FOG resulted in the fasted anaerobic digestion.

The supervisor of the research, Dr. Bipro Dhar, noted in an interview with Folio, the U of Alberta journal, “More work will first be needed. That means looking for even better and cheaper conductive materials, economic feasibility studies and scaled-up pilot projects.” 

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.

New Plastics Recycling Technology developed in Italy

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Saipem, an Italian company specializing in engineering, construction and drilling services and in the energy and infrastructure sectors, recently announced that it has signed a license agreement with ITEA S.p.A, another Italian company that has a patent for a plastics recycling technology. Under the agreement, Saipem will test the technology.

Originally designed for applications in the oil&gas sector, the technology is particularly suited to solid urban waste disposal, in particular unsorted plastic.

According to the two companies, plastic recycling from differentiated waste has been rather limited. Their review of recent studies leads to the conclusion that only 30% of material collected is recycled, leaving unsolved the problem of “Plasmix”, non-recyclable mixed plastics consisting of a group of heterogeneous plastics included in post-consumption wrappings which cannot be recovered as single polymers.

Mauro Piasere, COO of Saipem’s XSIGHT Division, stated in a news release, “Plastic recycling is an objective of great interest to Saipem, although further studies and technologies are required. The widespread application of the oxy-combustion process could facilitate recovery of the precious energy content of waste plastics while avoiding their dispersion. Use of this technology confirms our ability to adapt oil&gas technologies to new market demands and to support our clients by providing them with solutions targeted at achieving greater sustainability”.

ITEA technology involves a particular process of plastic decomposition called “flameless oxy-combustion”. This produces water, energy and pure CO2, which is not emitted into the atmosphere, but which is ideal for use as a product destined for the market.

ITEA claims that its process is very flexible, relatively simple and can be exploited even in small-sized facilities. If the testing is successful, it will demonstrate that it can recycle Plasmix in a sustainable way.

Inter Pipeline and Alberta NAIT Announce $10 Million Research Project on Plastic Waste Reduction

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Inter Pipeline Ltd., headquartered in Calgary, and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (“NAIT“) recently announced a new partnership to research opportunities to reuse and recycle plastic in Canada. The ten-year agreement, known as Plastics Research in Action (“PRIA”), will be funded by a $10 million commitment from Inter Pipeline, which represents the largest applied research partnership in NAIT’s history.

The Calgary-based energy infrastructure company is expanding into the petrochemical business with the construction of its Heartland Petrochemical Complex, slated for completion in late 2021 in Strathcona County. The $3.5-billion complex will produce polypropylene pellets used to manufacture recyclable products including medical equipment and textiles.

The polypropylene manufacturing process at Inter Pipeline’s complex is estimated to generate 65% less greenhouse gas (“GHG”) than the global average, and 35% less GHG than the North American average.

The PRIA partnership will see NAIT researchers and students work with Inter Pipeline on projects to advance the reuse and recycling of plastic in Canada and around the world.

Potential research projects include examining opportunities for plastic to be reused, thus retaining the value of the product, and supporting the ideals of a circular economy. Innovations could potentially help Canadians reuse and re-manufacture materials, create new economic opportunities and benefit our environment. A portion of the applied research funding will also be dedicated to improving sustainable practices at Inter Pipeline’s Heartland Petrochemical Complex.

“Ultimately, I think everyone agrees the end game is preventing plastic waste. That’s why I consider today’s announcement to be a completely necessary and crucial step,” said Chris Bayle, president and CEO of Inter Pipeline at the announcement of the partnership Tuesday in NAIT’s state-of-the-art Productivity and Innovation Centre

Almost 80% of all post-consumer plastics in Canada currently end up in landfills, he added. “This is the right project being done in the right place at the right time,” said Bayle of the partnership with NAIT. “We recognize fully that sustainability is a critical component of our business.”

“This agreement showcases how NAIT plays a vital role in helping industry to find solutions to the problems they’re facing,” said Dr. Glenn Feltham, NAIT’s president and CEO.

About Inter Pipeline Ltd.
Inter Pipeline is a major petroleum transportation, natural gas liquids processing, and bulk liquid storage business based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Inter Pipeline owns and operates energy infrastructure assets in western Canada and Europe. Inter Pipeline is a member of the S&P/TSX 60 Index and its common shares trade on the Toronto Stock Exchange under the symbol IPL.  www.interpipeline.com

About NAIT
The Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) is a leading Canadian polytechnic, delivering education in science, technology and the environment; business; health and skilled trades.

Canadian company claims it can 100% recycle Lithium Batteries

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Li-Cycle, a three-year old company headquartered in Mississauga, Ontario recently announced that had developed a method that allows it to achieve a recycling rate of 80% to 100% of materials in lithium-ion batteries.

​It is estimated that 5% of lithium-ion batteries are collected for recycling (i.e. not reuse) globally, with some jurisdictions (e.g. some member states of the European Union) having much more efficient portable battery collection rates of >20%. Once lithium-ion batteries reach recycling facilities today, the existing best available recycling technology uses high-temperature processing (i.e. >1,000°C, also known as smelting, a pyrometallurgical method) to recycle lithium-ion batteries.

Smelting typically recovers 30-40% of the constituent materials in lithium-ion batteries. The residual 60-70% is either volatilized, cleaned and emitted to the atmosphere, or ends up in solid waste (i.e. slag). Smelting specifically targets the recovery of the base metals in lithium-ion batteries – cobalt, nickel and copper – with only proportions recovered thereof. Critical materials such as lithium are not economically recoverable via smelting. Low recoveries result in an impartially closed lithium-ion battery supply chain loop.

Li-Cycle Technology™ uses a combination of mechanical size reduction and hydrometallurgical resource recovery specifically designed for lithium-ion battery recycling. The technology can do so with an unparalleled recovery rate of 80 – 100% of all materials. The recycling process consists of two key stages: (1) Safe-size reduction of all lithium batteries from a charged state to an inert product and (2) recovery of the electrode materials to produce battery-grade end products.

In 2018, Li-Cycle received $2.7 million in funding from Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC) to develop its novel process for the recovery and recycling of valuable materials from all types of lithium-ion batteries.

Earlier this year,  Li-Cycle was named as one of the top 100 international start-ups contributing to the energy transition through the 2019 Start-up Energy Transition (SET) Awards competition. This competition is run by the German Energy Agency (dena) and supported by the World Energy Council.

Li-Cycle has completed three research and development programs/physical validation work streams to date. The company is currently operating an integrated demonstration plant and is in the progressed stages of commercial plant development.  Li-Cycle’s physical validation work streams have been premised on a ‘scale-down’ focus, i.e. scaled down relative to commercial scale.  Each scale-down stage has been focused on the validation of specific key performance indicators.

Canadian Government funding for innovative plastic recycling technologies

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The government of Canada is partnering with Canadian businesses to develop innovative solutions to keep plastics in the economy and out of landfills and the environment.

The government recently announced six winners of the Canadian Plastics Innovation Challenge, a part of the Innovative Solutions Canada program. Dealing with issues related to food packaging, construction waste, and the separation of plastics for recycling, these Challenges are an opportunity to invest in innovative ideas and technologies that could play a role in addressing plastic pollution and moving Canada toward a zero-plastic waste future.

Copol International Ltd., one of the funding recipients located in Sydney, Nova Scotia, is a local small business developing a food packaging solution that would incorporate biodegradable components extracted from marine waste into a cast polypropylene film.

The $150,000 in funding will be used on a research project, in partnership with Cape Breton University’s Verschuren Centre, to develop and test biopolymer formulations extracted from marine plants and marine waste products and replace the unrecyclable product that is currently being used to make polypropylene film. For example, shrimp shells could be utilized in the manufacture of polypropylene film.

The research project will last approximately six months. If it is successful, then a prototype film will be produced for commercial testing.

Polypropylene (CPP) film products from the Copoal International Ltd. facility (Source: Copol International Ltd. website)

Copol International Ltd. has 54 employees, operates 24/7 in a 90,000-square-foot building. The company began operations approximately 20 years ago. IT currently provides customized mono- and multi-layer films for food and textile packaging, industrial applications, and heath care products for customers across North America 

Copol International Ltd. joins other small businesses from across the country who will each receive up to $150,000 to develop their idea.

Phase 1 recipients, such as the six winners of the Canadian Plastics Innovation Challenge, who successfully develop a proof of concept will be invited to compete for a grant of up to $1 million in Phase 2 to develop a prototype. The Government of Canada then has the option to be the first buyer of any successful innovation.

Innovative Solutions Canada consists of over $100 million in dedicated funding to support the scale-up and growth of Canada’s innovators and entrepreneurs by having the federal government act as a first customer for innovation. Twenty participating federal departments and agencies have set aside a portion of funding to support the creation of innovative solutions by Canadian small businesses.

A total of seven Canadian Plastics Innovation Challenges were put forward as part of the Innovative Solutions Canada program, each encouraging innovative solutions to a different problem area in addressing plastic waste.

The seven plastics challenges are sponsored by Environment and Climate Change Canada, Transport Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, and Natural Resources Canada; who each oversee the selection of the winning projects for their respective Challenges.

Italian companies developing waste to fuel technology

Eni, a large energy company headquartered in Italy, recently signed an agreement with NextChem, Maire Tecnimont’s green chemistry subsidiary headquartered in Italy, to collaborate on the development of a technology that can turn waste into new energy, hydrogen, and methanol.

The two companies have signed a partnership agreement to develop and implement a conversion technology, which uses high-temperature gasification to produce hydrogen and methanol from municipal solid waste and non-recyclable plastic with minimal environmental impact.

Together, Eni and NextChem will assess the technical and financial impact of the new technology, which could be implemented at Eni’s industrial sites in Italy. Eni has already expressed interest in evaluating the “Waste to Hydrogen” project at its bio-refinery in Porto Marghera, Venice, and carried out a feasibility study in collaboration with NextChem.

The agreement will position Eni as co-developer of NextChem’s technology. This will contribute to environmental sustainability at Eni’s industrial sites, forming part of an increasingly integrated and efficient system designed to contain and reduce atmospheric emissions of CO².

“This partnership will see Eni acquire highly innovative technology. When this technology is combined with the rich technological assets that Eni has accumulated over decades of refining, it will help to establish a tangible circular economic process whereby fuel is produced from waste with low environmental impact”, said Giuseppe Ricci, Eni’s Chief Refining & Marketing Officer.

Maire Tecnimont Group’s CEO, Pierroberto Folgiero, stated: “This technological partnership with Eni, a leader in the sector, is an exceptionally important step for our green acceleration project. Energy transition requires the industrialisation of new transformation processes, and with NextChem we are ready to respond to the growing demand for change”.

Jet fuel production from waste plastics

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Researchers from Washington State University (WSU) recently published a paper in the Journal Advanced Energy in which they describe a research study they conducted turning waste plastics to jet fuel through catalytic pyrolysis with activated carbons.

WSU’s Dr. Hanwu Lei and colleagues melted plastic waste at high temperature with activated carbon, a processed carbon with increased surface area, to produce jet fuel.

“Waste plastic is a huge problem worldwide,” said Lei, an associate professor in WSU’s Department of Biological System Engineering. “This is a very good, and relatively simple, way to recycle these plastics.”

How it works

In the experiment, Lei and colleagues tested low-density polyethylene and mixed a variety of waste plastic products, like water bottles, milk bottles, and plastic bags, and ground them down to around three millimeters, or about the size of a grain of rice.

The plastic granules were then placed on top of activated carbon in a tube reactor at a high temperature, ranging from 430 degree Celsius to 571 degrees Celsius. The carbon is a catalyst; a substance that speeds up a chemical reaction without being consumed by the reaction.

“Plastic is hard to break down,” Lei said. “You have to add a catalyst to help break the chemical bonds. There is a lot of hydrogen in plastics, which is a key component in fuel.”

Once the carbon catalyst has done its work, it can be separated out and re-used on the next batch of waste plastic conversion. The catalyst can also be regenerated after losing its activity.

After testing several different catalysts at different temperatures, the best result they had produced a mixture of 85 percent jet fuel and 15 percent diesel fuel.

Environmental impact

If operated at a commercial scale, the process would go a long way to addressing the world’s plastic waste problems. Not only would this new process reduce that waste, very little of what is produced is wasted.

The pyrolysis process itself is considered to have low environmental impacts as it does not involve the combustion of plastic which subsequently requires the air pollutants to be treated.

“We can recover almost 100 percent of the energy from the plastic we tested,” Lei said. “The fuel is very good quality, and the byproduct gasses produced are high quality and useful as well.”

He also said the method for this process is easily scalable. It could work at a large facility or even on farms, where farmers could turn plastic waste into diesel.

“You have to separate the resulting product to get jet fuel,” Lei said. “If you don’t separate it, then it’s all diesel fuel.”

This work was funded under program initiated by the United States Department of Agriculture.

$40 million Waste-to-Energy Research Facility Launched

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Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) and the National Environment Agency (NEA) recently launched a new Waste-to-Energy Research Facility that turns municipal solid waste from the NTU campus into electricity and resources.

Located in Tuas South, the facility is a $40 million project supported by the National Research Foundation, NEA, the Economic Development Board (EDB) and NTU, for its construction and operation over its projected lifetime.

Slagging Gasification

The first-of-its-kind facility in Singapore is managed by NTU and houses a unique slagging gasification plant, which is able to heat up to 1,600 degrees Celsius, unlike conventional mass burn incinerators which operate at around 850 degrees Celsius.

The high temperature of the plant turns waste into syngas (mostly carbon monoxide and hydrogen) that can be used to produce electricity, slag (a glass-like material that can potentially be used as construction material), and metal alloy granulates that can be recycled.

Led by NTU’s Nanyang Environment and Water Research Institute (NEWRI), the research facility will facilitate test-bedding of innovative technologies for converting waste into energy and useful materials through unique plug-and-play features. These technologies, if proven successful and implemented, can enable more energy and materials to be recovered from waste, thereby prolonging the lifespan of Semakau Landfill.

In Singapore’s context, slagging gasification technology has potential to complement the current mass burn technology as it can treat diverse mixed waste streams that cannot be handled by these mass burn incinerators today.

This slagging gasification plant also demonstrates another first with the use of ‘clean’ biomass charcoal as auxiliary fuel – a unique combination not yet proven in the market.

Possible research projects at the new WtE Research Facility

Over the next few years, NTU scientists and engineers from NEWRI will collaborate with industry and academic partners to embark on various research projects aimed at developing and testing technologies in the waste-to-energy domain.

Unique to the research facility is the ability to test-bed new technologies in “plug-and- play” style, which includes the capability to process diverse feeds like municipal solid waste, incineration bottom ash and sludge; provisions for the evaluation of gas separation technologies to supply enriched-oxygen air; syngas upgrading and novel flue gas treatment techniques.

How the gasification plant works

Municipal waste from the NTU campus is transported to the facility, which can treat 11.5 tonnes of waste daily.

The waste is sorted, shredded and transported via a conveyor and a bucket lifted to the top of the furnace tower to be fed along with biomass charcoal that helps maintain the high temperature of the molten slagging layer at the base of the furnace.

The waste is dried and gasified as it moves down the furnace. About 85 per cent of the waste weight will turn into syngas, 12 per cent into slag and metal alloy, and the remaining 3 per cent into fly ash.

The syngas flows from the top of the furnace to the secondary combustion chamber, where it is burned to heat a boiler to generate steam.

The steam then drives a turbine-generator to generate electricity to offset the energy consumption to operate this research facility. In a commercial larger scale plant of this type, the amount of electricity output can be significant enough to self sustain the plant operations with the excess channelled into the electricity grid.

The exhaust flue gas from the boiler is then treated with slaked lime and activated carbon and passed through bag filter, before being discharged as cleaned gas through a stack into the atmosphere.

Moving forward, NTU expects to partner more companies to develop and trial new solutions at this open test-bed facility that aims to contribute to Singapore’s quest to be a more sustainable nation.

Developing Recycling Solutions for Fiberglass

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KWI Polymers, headquartered in Boisbriand, Quebec, recently received $150,000 in funding under the Canadian Plastics Innovation Challenge to develop a possible solution for recycling fiberglass. The CPIC is funded by the Innovative Solutions Canada program. The end result could potentially turn transformed materials into street furniture, railings, sidewalks and decking.

There are few options for recycling and disposing of boats made of glass fiber-reinforced plastic, commonly referred to as fiberglass. Most of these boats end up in a landfill, or worse, abandoned on land or in the water. To address this issue, Transport Canada issued a challenge to Canadian small and medium-sized businesses to develop innovative solutions for recycling or reusing fiberglass in an energy-efficient way which recovers as much material as possible. KWI Polymers was a Canadian company that took up the challenge.

A 2007 report by the International Council of Marine Industry Associations estimates that a well-kept fiberglass boat easily can last 50 years, during which time it likely will change owners several times. But “even the best-constructed craft someday will have to end its life,” the report notes.

Statistics from 2016 compiled by the National Marine Manufacturers Association estimates there are 8.6 million boats in Canada. Most of the boats are constructed from fiberglass.

KWI polymers is a company that manufactures polymers from from both virgin and recycled materials. This includes thermoset, thermoplastic, elastomer and rubber polymers.

One aspect of the business of KWI polymers is regrinding. Regrind is material that has already undergone a process such as extrusion or molding and then is chopped up to the appropriate size for repurposing. KWI Polymers offers regrind of consistent quality that can be separated by color and reach a purity level of 95%. These purity levels that are rarely, if ever, attained by other companies in North America. The advantage of using regrind is that it generally comes at a lower cost, and reduces stress on the environment because of the reuse of existing material as an alternative to creating new material.

milled plastic goods with color sample plates (Source: KWI Polymers)

The Canadian Plastics Innovation Challenge

The Canadian Plastics Innovation Challenge is a $12.85-million initiative supporting research projects that aim to address plastic pollution through new and innovative technologies. This initiative is funded by federal departments and agencies, through the Innovative Solutions Canada program, and invites Canadian small and medium-sized businesses to develop innovative solutions in response to specific challenges related to plastic waste.

Innovations Solutions Canada

There are 20 participating federal departments and agencies that will issue challenges through the Innovative Solutions Canada program. These challenges are designed to seek novel solutions and not commercially available products or services. Together, the funding from federal departments and agencies represents a $100-million investment for each of the next three years, to fund innovative challenges focused on various issues across all sectors including pollution from plastics.