How Prince George could become a hub for turning household waste into fuel

·3 min read
Sustane turns plastic back into diesel fuel. (Brian MacKay/CBC - image credit)
Sustane turns plastic back into diesel fuel. (Brian MacKay/CBC - image credit)

Prince George, B.C., is being eyed for two new projects aimed at converting household waste into wood pellets, diesel and other recycled materials that could see a dramatic reduction in the city's carbon footprint and landfill waste.

Nova Scotia-based Sustane Technologies Inc. already has one such plant up and running in the community of Chester, N.S., and now CEO Peter Vinall is looking at Prince George for its next location.

Additionally, Vinall is working with B.C.-based lumber company Canfor on piloting a second project to further refine Sustane's products into high-value biofuel.

"We're past proof of concept," Vinall said. "We have the ability to eliminate all of the methane that comes out of the landfill ... and overall drop the carbon footprint of the Prince George region quite dramatically."

How it works

Sustane's plant in Prince George would work much the same as the one in Chester, where municipal waste is sent to Sustane's warehouse rather than the local landfill. There, the garbage is sorted into different categories, depending on how it can be used.

Vinall said roughly 50 per cent of the waste tends to be biomass such as paper, cardboard and food which can be converted into pellets that are sold as an industrial heat source. Twenty per cent is plastic, the majority of which is cleaned and cooked back into diesel oil and kerosene, while metals are recycled.

Vinall said the volume of garbage going into Prince George's landfill — just over 70,000 tonnes a year — is the right amount for his company to handle based on its current level of technology.

'A circular economy'

Vinall is also keen to work with Canfor on a secondary project that would fall under the umbrella of Arbios Biotech, a joint venture between Canfor and the Australian recycling company Licella.

Canfor CFO Alan Nicholl said his company is interested in creating a "circular economy solution" to reusing waste in the city. The concept of a circular economy is based on the idea that rather than material being used once and then disposed of, it gets reused again and again as often as possible.

Nicholl said he's been talking to Vinall about refining the biomass pellets produced by Sustane into high-value biofuel at Canfor's Intercontinental Pulp Mill site in the city's industrial section north of the Fraser River.

At a presentation to Prince George city council on March 8, Nicholl said the concept has already been tested and "the results that we're seeing are very encouraging."

Costs and opportunities

Vinall said the cost to the city for these projects would be minimal to non-existent. Garbage collection would happen as usual and his company would be paid a tipping fee similar to what is already charged at the landfill.

He anticipates 25 full-time jobs would be created by Sustane, while Canfor projects 150 direct and 600 indirect jobs would be created by the project.

Vinall also said because of the technology used, there would be very little impact on the city's air quality, particularly due to the reduction of methane emissions from the local landfill.

The company's CEO, Peter Vinall, has 35 years of experience working in the pulp and paper industry.
The company's CEO, Peter Vinall, has 35 years of experience working in the pulp and paper industry.(Brian MacKay/CBC)

Nicholl said while Prince George is the preferred location for its project, Canfor will be conducting community consultations and speaking to local First Nations to make sure local support has been secured before moving forward. He said if feedback is positive, it could be up and running by the end of 2022.

Nicholl said he didn't anticipate a full environmental review would be necessary, but, ultimately, it's the province's decision.

Vinall said Sustane will likely follow Canfor's lead as to whether Prince George becomes the next community he sets up shop in.

"We think this has a great future," he said. "[But] it's got to be a win for everybody."

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