By Maria Church
Bernie Debono, general manager of Norfolk Disposal, shakes his head and can’t help but laugh as he recalls his story.
For three years, his family-run waste-disposal company based in Norfolk County, Ont., worked towards building Canada’s first waste-to-fuel production plant that uses leading-edge catalytic cracking technology from Toronto-based Orion Eco Solutions.
Bernie Debono, general
manager of Norfolk Disposal, shakes his head and can’t help but laugh as he
recalls his story.
For three years, his family-run
waste-disposal company based in Norfolk County, Ont., worked towards building Canada’s
first waste-to-fuel production plant that uses leading-edge catalytic cracking technology
from Toronto-based Orion Eco Solutions.
“We wanted it to be clean,
no stack, no smoke,” Debono said. “We thought that was key for being in the
location that we are in. We are not that far from residential houses and
subdivisions, so we wanted to make sure that whatever we were doing was not
giving off any kind of emission or odor.”
After a lengthy, costly
process of designing the facility for its Waterford, Ont., property, and receiving
approval from Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, Norfolk
Disposal hit a major roadblock in early September that forced it to put the
project on the backburner.
The underlying problem, Debono
says, is that they are trying to build a biofuel facility in a county where
zoning bylaws prohibit fuel production. To change the zoning bylaw, the municipal
council must vote to approve the project.
In early September, the council
rejected Norfolk Disposal’s biofuel project, citing concerns about experimental
technology, possible emissions and overall proximity to homes.
Debono says he was initially
shocked. He thought he had covered all the bases; the environment ministry was
satisfied with the specs, and even the municipal planning committee was on
The technology he proposed
is low-heat catalytic cracking technology, chosen specifically because it’s a
closed-circuit system, zero-net emissions project. The entire process takes
place in a sealed facility. Even the reactor uses a vacuum to remove any fumes,
which are then burned in the plant’s generator. The only emissions from the
process would be from the Caterpillar diesel generator, which is typically used
as a backup generator for manufacturing and transportation systems.
“It’s very frustrating,” Debono
said. The municipal council wanted the project to be proven zero emissions, but
the only plant currently using Orion’s technology is in Italy and was not yet
operating on a continuous run.
Knowledge is key
In hindsight, Debono says, the
entire project was perhaps doomed from the start because of a lack of education
and awareness of the technology proposed.
“We’ve got three and a half
years behind us so I’m aware of the technology, but somebody who hears about
the application last minute will say, ‘I don’t want this here.’”
At the public council
hearing, Debono said the few residents who attended expressed concern about
noise, dust, and odor. The fact that the Ontario environment ministry addressed
these concerns and gave its approval was not heeded, or perhaps not trusted.
The ministry has a
less-than-perfect track record with Norfolk County councillors when it comes to
green energy development. The council voted last year to oppose future industrial
wind turbine development in the area, citing concerns about lack of
consultation by the province.
Despite council’s rejection
of the waste-to-fuel facility, Debono says he is not ready to scrap the project
yet. Norfolk Disposal has a few options that could see the project come to
fruition, such as appealing council’s decision or starting over at a new site.
“They’re all different
options, but we’re not sure. Any one of those is a slow process,” he said.
>Norfolk Disposal celebrates
its 51 anniversary in business this year and is no stranger to renewable
energy. The company has a number of biofuel and green energy projects already
on the go, including supplying recycled wood product to a pellet plant in
Springford, Ont., and to its sister company, Debono Greenhouses, where it satisfies
more than 50 per cent of the greenhouses’ heating needs.
“We are constantly looking
for new ideas, new initiatives, new ways to recycle and to be in the fore
front.” Debono said. “I think you have to. I think the days of just picking up
waste and bringing it to the landfill are numbered.”
Norfolk Disposal opted for Orion
Eco Solutions’ low-heat catalytic cracking biofuel technology after considering
several options for generating energy from waste. The main driver, according to
general manager Bernie Debono, is that it allows them to be an end user in a
Orion is the patent holder
for its catalytic cracking technology – not yet officially named. According to
Orion’s vice president of business development, Mike Harvey, the technology is
similar to KDV (a German acronym for catalytic pressure-less depolymerisation) – a
process developed in Germany to convert organic municipal waste into diesel fuel.
As with KDV processing,
Orion’s low-heat catalytic cracking system is designed to run continuously and
at low temperatures, which prevents the release of dioxins or other emissions created
by a high-temperature burning process.
The process starts by
breaking down biomass into small chips and drying them – this step is key to
reducing odors – then coating them in mineral oil. The feedstock is then pressurized
and a catalyst is added before the stock goes into the reactor and cooks at
about 350 C. Once cooled, water and residual matter separates from the fuel.
The residual sludge is about
seven per cent of the original biomass and is non-toxic. The entire reactor
process occurs in a cement casket to prevent leakage into the ground.
Fuel produced varies in
quality depending on input. Norfolk Disposal’s planned to sell its biofuel
wholesale to be blended with other fuels.
Orion has been developing
its catalytic cracking technology for eight years. The only plant currently
using the technology is in Italy, where the facility will have upgraded
permanently to a continuous process in October.
Another Orion facility in
China was due to be operational in late October, while nearly a dozen other
projects around the world are in various stages of development, including one in
Thunder Bay, Ont., and another outside of Dryden, Ont. If approved in their
respective jurisdictions, all are expected to be up and running in the next 18
Orion’s goal, Harvey said,
is to keep each venture more or less as a private business, with each partner,
like Norfolk Disposal, hand selected.
“There are all kinds of
people lining up that want the technology; it’s a matter of us picking the
right individuals,” he said.