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商业 - 科技

垃圾变能源

Brian Dumaine 2013年11月13日

加拿大Enerkem公司能够使用相对较低的能耗,把金属、玻璃和石头以外的几乎所有垃圾都变成足以媲美汽油和乙醇的燃料,同时有效地控制生产过程对环境的污染。

    现在或许是时候重新定义“垃圾”这个词了。因为如果加拿大新创企业Enerkem获得成功,那么垃圾将不再百无一用。Enerkem公司最近获得了废物管理公司(Waste Management)以及瓦莱罗能源公司(Valero Energy)等巨头的支持。它拥有一项专利,能将木材、植物、塑料、纺织品等——基本上除了金属、玻璃和石头外什么都行——转变成燃料,用来为汽车提供动力。这项技术还能将垃圾变成工业用化学品的原料。

    Enerkem公司从垃圾场收走不可回收的废物,然后把它们转变成一种合成气,随后再通过多个化学步骤,将上述气体转变成甲醇或乙醇。过去十年来,科学家和企业家们一直试图掌握将废物转化为燃料的技术。但问题在于,这个转化过程可能成本极高,而且生成的燃料不敌传统的汽油,也比不上用玉米制造的乙醇。对于一些变废物为燃料的技术而言,另一个问题在于涉及的焚烧过程会对环境造成污染。此外,气化过程则十分耗能,因此整个过程可谓得不偿失。

    相比之下,Enerkem公司称,它的技术是通过在密封容器内进行反应,能使污染程度降至最低,而且是在很低的温度下以化学方式将垃圾转化成合成气,因而耗能很少。Enerkem副总裁玛丽-海伦•拉博瑞说:“我们认为我们的技术极具经济效益,如果实现满负荷生产,我们的燃料将有望跟玉米制造的乙醇以及传统汽油燃料媲美。”

    这家公司商业模式的一个吸引力在于,潜在市场巨大。据Enerkem估计,北美地区每年产生的垃圾就足够制造出相当于140亿加仑的燃料,相当于美国汽油需求量的10%左右。另外,随着垃圾倾倒费上涨,各地市政当局都乐意花钱让Enerkem将垃圾收走——这样,这家公司一分钱不花就能获得原料,甚至反而能拿到些钱。

    Enerkem的另一个优势在于,它的工厂都建在城市垃圾填埋场附近,使得这家公司与其他生物燃料制造商相比拥有具有巨大的成本优势。Lux Research公司研究负责人马克•邦杰解释称:“其它生物燃料公司不得不将玉米和其他原料用卡车运送到建在农村的工厂,然后再将制造出的燃料用卡车运输数百英里到市场,运输成本可能导致他们的生产成本增加50%至100%。而Enerkem不需要这样做,这就给它带来了巨大的优势。”市政环卫车都直接将垃圾运到Enerkem公司的工厂。而且Enerkem转过身来还能将生产出的燃料卖给为它提供原料的城市,为这些城市的汽车和卡车提供燃料。

    位于蒙特利尔的Enerkem公司在加拿大运营试点和示范工厂已达十年之久,而它第一座实现量产的工厂计划于今年年底前在加拿大艾伯塔省埃德蒙顿市开工。随后,Enerkem计划至少另外再建两家工厂:一家位于蒙特利尔;另一家则位于密西西比的庞托托克。后者获得了美国农业部和能源部提供的1.3亿美元财政资金的支持。

    每个工厂仅生产约1000万加仑汽油,较之汽油需求可谓微不足道。但如果这些工厂运作顺畅,那么Enerkem就证明了变垃圾为燃料的技术在商业上是可行的。这对燃料领域的诸多新创企业而言,可谓是一个重大的转机。(财富中文网)

    译者:项航

    It just might be time to redefine the word "trash." That's because if a Canadian startup has its way, trash will no longer be worthless. Enerkem, a company backed by giants such as Waste Management and Valero Energy, has a patented process that converts wood, plants, plastics, textiles, and other materials—just about anything except metal, glass and stone—into fuel that we can use to power our cars. The process can also convert garbage into feedstock for industrial chemicals.

    Enerkem takes unrecyclable waste from dumps and converts it into a syngas and then converts the gas through multiple chemical steps into methanol or ethanol. For the last decade, scientists and entrepreneurs have been trying to master the alchemy of turning waste into fuel. The rub has been the process can be very expensive, and often the fuel can't compete with conventional gasoline or with ethanol made from corn. The other problem with some waste to energy technologies is that incineration can be polluting. Also, gasification can require lots of energy, making the process not worth the effort.

    By contrast, Enerkem says its process—which occurs in a contained vessel—minimizes pollution and uses very low temperatures and thus energy to chemically convert the waste to syngas. Says Marie-Hélène Labrie a Vice President at Enerkem: "We think our economics quite are attractive, and at full capacity our fuel will be competitive with corn ethanol and gasoline."

    One appeal of the company's business model is that the potential market is huge. Enerkem estimates that North America produces enough garbage each year to generate the equivalent of about 14 billion gallons of fuel a year—or about 10% of U.S. gasoline demand. On top of that, with dumping fees rising, municipalities are happy to pay to take trash away—negating the company's feedstock costs.

    Another advantage is that Enerkem is locating its plants next to urban landfills, which gives it a huge economic advantage over other biofuel makers. "Transport costs can add 50% to 100% to production costs for other biofuel companies who have to truck corn and other feed stocks to a plant in the countryside and then truck the finished fuel sometimes hundreds of miles back to a market," explains Mark Bunger, research director at Lux Research. "Enerkem has a tremendous advantage because it doesn't have to do that." In Enerkem's case, the city's garbage trucks are already hauling the trash right to where its facilities are. Plus Enerkem can sell the fuel right back to the city which can use it for their buses and trucks.

    The Montreal firm, which has been running pilot and demo plants in Canada for a decade now, is scheduled to open its first commercial scale plant in Edmonton, Alberta, by the end of the year. After that it plans to build at least two others: one in Montreal and the other in Pontotoc, Mississippi, which is backed by $130 million in taxpayer funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Department of Energy.

    The plants will each produce only about 10 million gallons a year—a pittance compared to gasoline demand. But if the plants work, Enerkem will have proven that the technology is viable on a commercial scale—a major tripping point for startups in the fuel business.

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