Alberta Innovates – Energy and Environment Solutions: accessible research facility to test feedstock viability for conversion to clean energy

Project Leads: Dr. Eddy Isaacs, Dr. Surindar Singh and Dr. Duke du Plessis (Alberta Innovates – Energy and Environment Solutions); Bud Latta, Dr. Christian Felske and Dr. Ibrahim Karidio (City of Edmonton)

In an inconspicuous corrugated metal building situated next to one of the first biofuels refineries in the country, is a 300 kg/hr pilot facility that includes a gasification facility, gas conditioning, cleaning and methanol synthesis system. In this 4,000 square foot space, researchers from across North America test various waste feedstocks, from municipal to agriculture and forestry biomass to plastics, and various industrial wastes, for their conversion to clean biofuels or value added products.

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“The Advanced Energy Research Facility (AERF), located at the City of Edmonton’s Waste Management Centre, is a state of state-of-the-art plug and play facility,” says Alberta Innovates—Energy and Environment Solutions (AI-EES) CEO, Dr. Eddy Isaacs. “This means technology developers can come and test their processes in this facility in real time and with actual feedstocks.”

To build the right type of facility infrastructure, a study, “Identification of Opportunities for the Production of Bio-Products from Waste Bio-Mass in Alberta,” was jointly funded by AI-EES, the City of Edmonton and the Alberta Department of Innovation and Advanced Education. The purpose was to identify innovative companies that could be attracted to Alberta and make use of the AERF facilities.

The $11 million facility was envisioned and jointly-funded through a partnership between AI-EES and the City of Edmonton, who wanted to attract researchers working on novel technologies that could benefit Alberta. Both partners understood a facility like this would accelerate commercial deployment of the technologies tested while also attracting innovative companies to the province.

“The opportunity to develop the facility arrived at an interesting time. Albertans are demanding a clean and low carbon environment,” adds Isaacs. “And we had also identified that several bioenergy and bio-products technology developers were seeking to locate to our province.”

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The AERF facility is managed by an executive steering team comprised of senior representatives of AI-EES and the City of Edmonton, which is currently chaired by the City’s Bud Latta. Duke du Plessis, AI-EES’ senior advisor, Energy Technology has been involved with this project since it was simply an idea more than ten years ago.

“This facility is addressing an area of high interest and importance to Alberta — minimizing our emissions and reducing our reliance on fossil fuels,” says du Plessis. “This is a unique facility focusing on conversion of waste and biomass into clean products.”

A readily-available AERF facility reduces technology development costs, risks and time; and it can be used to develop cost effective technologies for converting Alberta’s forest biomass, agriculture, construction, municipal and other waste into clean biofuels and bioproducts.

“It was our hope that AERF would foster collaborative research projects among industry, universities, and national and international R&D organizations,” says Bud Latta, Director of Processing and Disposal, Waste Management Services, City of Edmonton. “To date, AERF has been home to eight successful research projects.”

The facility has also become a valuable training ground, with opportunities for people in the clean energy sector. At AERF, university students have the chance to work alongside highly qualified personnel, allowing them to gain experimental experience they would not otherwise have access to.

AERF has space available for lease and includes a waste feedstock preparation system (shredding, air classification, ferrous and non-ferrous metals separation), and a bench scale gas-to-liquids catalytic research laboratory. A number of technology developers have already seized the opportunity to test their processes at a larger scale at the AERF. Read this sidebar below to better understand the scope of the projects launched in the AERF between 2013 and 2015.

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