Mississippi to open trash-to-ethanol plant

Canadian company Enerkem to use municipal solid trash and wood chips to make ethanol in a process it says is cleaner than traditional waste-to-energy technologies.

Martin LaMonica Former Staff writer, CNET News
Martin LaMonica is a senior writer covering green tech and cutting-edge technologies. He joined CNET in 2002 to cover enterprise IT and Web development and was previously executive editor of IT publication InfoWorld.
Martin LaMonica
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Rather than stay in the ground, trash from the Three Rivers Landfill in Ponotoc, Miss., will be turned into ethanol.

Montreal-based Enerkem on Thursday announced plans to produce 20 million gallons a year of ethanol from waste at the Mississippi landfill in a project valued at $250 million.

This is some of the equipment used in Enerkem's multistage process for convering waste to fuel. Enerkem

The "feedstock" for the ethanol will be municipal solid waste, as well as wood residues from forest and agricultural activities, according to Enerkem.

The company's process can sort household trash, diverting material that can be recycled and processing the rest into ethanol, a liquid fuel blended with gasoline.

The project is one of only a few in North America to convert waste products into ethanol or electricity using processes that waste-to-energy companies say is cleaner than existing technologies such as incineration.

After sorting and drying the waste, Enerkem breaks down the material with heat and pressure using a gasifier. The gasifier creates a synthesis gas that is a mix of carbon monoxide and hydrogen. That synthesis gas, or syngas, is then converted into ethanol or other chemicals.

The company, which was founded in 2000, has built a few demonstration facilities in Canada using both municipal solid trash and utility poles as a feedstock. At a conference earlier this month, company CEO Vincent Chornet said the technology is largely developed and that Enerkem is now looking to commercialize the process more broadly.

Coskata and BlueFire Ethanol are two other cellulosic-ethanol companies that plan to turn both wood chips and municipal solid waste into ethanol.