City gets funding for gasification project

Federal funding will help the City of Swift Current to develop a gasification project to generate power from recyclable materials.

Councillors approved a motion at a special council meeting on Aug. 7 to enter into a funding agreement with the federal government.

The City made an application in 2018 to the Low Carbon Economy Fund, which is part of the federal government’s Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth for Climate Change. The purpose of the fund is to provide financial support for projects that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote clean growth.

The federal funding will support up to 40 per cent of project cost, and the deadline for the completion of this project is March 31, 2022.

Mitch Minken, the City’s general manager of infrastructure and operations, spoke about the motivation for this project during and after the meeting.

“The drive to reduce one’s carbon footprint is increasingly growing, while the market for recyclable materials is on the decline,” he noted. “Recyclable materials are being transported further distances within Canada and the United States to reach end markets that are only accepting the top percentile of materials.”

The City contracted the Saskatchewan Research Council (SRC) in 2016 to do a study on the best options for reusing recyclable fibres, which include cardboard, paper, and clean wood.

“At that time, we were really struggling with what to do with our cardboard and paper recyclables,” he recalled. “We had the recycle centre still going at that, but at that time we had no market at all. So it seemed prudent at that time, even though we were able to change things around and actually find some market for our materials, that we start to look at what we were going to do with these materials into the future.”

The SRC study looked at various alternatives and proposed a small modular gasification unit as the most feasible alternative. The cost of a unit did not make it feasible for the City to continue with the project, but the City decided to apply in 2018 for funding from the Low Carbon Economy Fund.

“At this time we're working to complete that agreement with the federal government,” he said. “This is the first step that council has taken towards agreeing to work with the federal government to meet the requirements of this agreement, and from there we'll be working into more engineering detail as we go forward to the actual costs and how that all will work into the future. So at this point, this is step one of a longer process.”

The detailed project costs must still be determined, and this information will be used to make a final decision on the project’s future.

“That will form part of the 2020 and 2021 budget deliberations,” he said. “Council will have further decisions, whether they want to move forward with the project or not at that time, when they see the feasibility numbers that are coming out as we get our engineering more and more defined.”

While a number of steps must still be completed before a final decision is taken, the City’s intention is to go ahead with this project if at all possible.

“We have to continue our diligence and move through the engineering pieces and if at some point something changes and changes the assumptions that we have today, then we'll have to look at it, but at this point it's very positive,” he said.

According to Minken the development of this gasification project in Swift Current will probably be a first in Canada.

“I believe this might be the first one in Canada,” he said. “There are units in the U.S., but I'm not aware of any in Canada.”

A typical gasification unit does not require a lot of space and will fit into a 30 feet by 30 feet enclosure. The gasifier converts recyclable materials into synthetic gas, which will then be used by an internal combustion engine to power an electrical generator. There will be no atmospheric emissions, and all gas produced during the process is used by the engine to generate power. The gasification unit will produce about one megawatt of power, which will supply electricity to about 1,000 homes in Swift Current.

“It's all done in an enclosed system,” he explained. “So there's no emissions. It's done under heat and then converts the material into gas and a small by-product called biochar, which is an inert product that can be used actually as a soil amendment, so sort of as a fertilizer, or used in our future composting operation.”

The gasification project will help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 5,500 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year or 110,000 tonnes over 20 years. It will annually divert approximately 5,800 tonnes of lower quality recyclable fibres and woods from the landfill, which will help to increase the lifespan of the landfill.

The federal funding will help to reduce the City’s portion of the overall project cost, but the City will still be responsible for up to 60 per cent of funding. Minken said this initial expense will be recovered through income generated by the gasification unit.

“In this case we're producing both gas and electricity,” he noted. “So we have a product that will be produced that will either offset current costs or be able to be sold.”

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