Enerkem to Squeeze Biofuel Out of Old Electricity Poles

enerkemlogoAny downed poles in your neighborhood in the last winter storm? Montreal’s Enerkem may be interested. The biofuel startup, which plans to make cellulosic ethanol using wood from used electricity poles, said yesterday that its first commercial-scale plant is within a few months of starting production.

The new, 1.3 million-gallon facility is in Westbury, about two hours outside of Montreal, and is designed to use a thermo-chemical process to turn the waste wood into ethanol.

Enerkem, backed by Rho Ventures, Braemar Energy Ventures, and BDR Capital, said construction of the plant started in October 2007, and was mechanically completed last month. The company didn’t set a date for when the plant will be fully functional, but said the conditioned synthesis gas island, which serves as the chemical production platform, has been finalized and is in an advanced commissioning stage, with methanol and ethanol production modules to be bolted on over the next few months.

As for those wooden poles, they’re a bargain for Enerkem, which calls them a “negative-cost” feedstock. That means the company is paid to take them away.

Enerkem has been operating a pilot plant in nearby Sherbrooke, Quebec, since 2003, where it’s tested about 20 different feedstocks, including municipal solid waste, forest residues, construction and demolition wood, and treated wood.

Enerkem will be getting its hands dirty with municipal solid waste as part of its work on waste-to-ethanol facilities with Toronto’s GreenField Ethanol. Last year, the companies said their first joint project, a plant that’s expected to produce 9.5 million gallons of biofuel per year from municipal solid waste when it’s up and running by the end of 2010, would be built in Edmonton, Alberta. Enerkem and GreenField plan to work together on a number of facilities and have said they already have a second plant in development.

Last week, Cambridge, Mass.-based cellulosic ethanol developer Verenium said it had completed 75-percent of the commissioning phase of its demonstration plant, a 1.4-million-gallon-per-year facility in Jennings, La.