Swift Current takes first step in constructing gasification facility
With markets shrinking for recycled products, the City of Swift Current is taking the first step towards building a facility that would in part turn recycled newspaper and cardboard into electricity.
At a special noon council meeting on August 7, council unanimously passed a motion to enter into a Federal Funding Agreement under the Low Carbon Economy Fund which would cover 40 per cent of the gasification project. The renewable energy and heat produced by the project would help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 5,500 tonnes of C02 equivalent annually.
The funding agreement requires a project completion date of March 31, 2022, so council will be coming forward with budgetary costs in the 2020 and 2021 City budgets.
Mitch Minken, City of Swift Current General Manager of Infrastructure and Operations, said this project has been on the drawing board for a number of years, dating back to a 2016 high-level economic feasibility study conducted by the Saskatchewan Research Council.
“At that time we were really struggling with what to do with our cardboard and paper recyclables. We had the Recycle Centre still going at that time, 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.”
And while that study explored the feasibility, economics, and a determination if there is enough recycled materials to run the operation, Council is moving forward after receiving funding through a Green Energy Grant program.
“At this time we are working to complete that agreement with the Federal Government. This is the first step that council has taken towards agreeing to work with the Federal Government to meet the requirements of this agreement. From there we will be working into more engineering detail as we go forward as to the actual costs and how that all will work into the future.”
Admittedly, and funding agreement is the first step of a longer process. The City is now exploring tentative locations and working on the initial design phase of the project.
“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,” Minken said.
Gasification as a small scale electricity producing technology is not new, but this proven technology is relatively new in Canada. Minken is aware of a series of units operating in the United States, but is not aware of similar operations in Canada.
“The unit itself is looking to produce around one megawatt of electricity so it’s not a huge unit. Converting I think about 6,000 tonnes of material a year into gas. There is no emission from the gasification unit at all. It’s all done in an enclosed system, so there is no emissions. It’s done under heat and then converts the material into gas and a small byproduct 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 operations.”
The preparation work for the project is also exploring the guarantee of a recyclable material stream to use for the facility.
“We’re working to secure that and certainly there is plenty of material around. It might not be just our material, but there is other material that we would be able to secure before we would be able to move forward.”
“At this point, once we get the agreement done, we’re not committed at this point to actually do the construction. So we will have more decision points as we move forward.”
Councillor George Bowditch said he was excited by the prospect of this project.
“It’s something that I’ve been kind of keeping my fingers crossed for a number of years that we could be considered for a project such as this. This is very exciting. It’s nice to be a leader within the municipalities of Canada, not just Saskatchewan.”
Councillor Ryan Plewis added that recycling has been a top of mind issue for Council for a number of years.
“We’ve talked about these sorts of issues for a number of years. I know the public has talked about these issues for a number of years. And we’ve certainly had some challenges in terms of recycling of cardboard, and everybody has challenges whether you’re in Saskatchewan or right across Canada with landfill management and solid waste management. Landfills are very expensive to operate. Obviously the less that we can put in there and the more that we can find other uses for, the longer that we have for life expectancy in this sort of facilities.”
“We want to do try to do the most efficient and effective thing possible. We want to do the most environmentally responsible thing that we can do within the framework of what we’re able to accomplish. And I think it really sheds in a positive light, at least in my mind, on the prospects for this project,” Plewis said.
Councillor Pat Friesen also agreed the project was a positive one.
“In this project it’s a win all the way around. We’re recycling. We’re reducing the amount of things going into our landfill. We’re generating electricity which we can use in our facilities. And the byproduct can also be used as a soil amendment or incorporated into composting. So there is absolutely no losers here in this. And I think we need to point that out that this is just absolutely favourable all the way around.”