The saying that one person’s trash is another person’s treasure has never been more true.
In what is being described as “game-changing technology that will save the world and its climate,” Cielo Waste Solutions Corp., an Alberta company located just 25 kilometres south of Calgary in Aldersyde, has developed a revolutionary technology to convert all sorts of garbage into gold — or at least transportation-grade diesel, jet fuel and naphtha fuel.
“People called me crazy for years, but it’s working,” said Don Allan, the president and CEO of Cielo, which means sky or heaven in Spanish. And it’s no wonder acquaintances questioned his sanity. For the first 12 of the past 15 years, Allan hadn’t taken a paycheque, and he and his wife, Barb, as well as his brother and many others invested millions of dollars into research and development, perfecting a proprietary thermal catalytic depolymerization technology that is patent pending.
After a complicated discussion about molecules, negative ions, etc., basically Cielo has developed a synthetic rock that is ground down to a talcum-like powder to become their highly secret catalyst that is added to all kinds of garbage — including contaminated plastic — and out comes fuel. Cielo sold its first batch of diesel in April.
“The way I look at it, we can make a huge difference on what happens in the world. That, to me, is what I’m leaving behind for my grandkids. A better, cleaner world.”
Those five grandkids and one great-grandchild sometimes call their 59-year-old grandpa “Doc”, after the fictional scientist Dr. Emmett (Doc) Brown in the 1985 hit movie Back to the Future, starring Michael J. Fox. At one point in the movie, Doc rifles through a garbage can, pulling out a banana peel and some other garbage to fuel his DeLorean car turned into a time machine.
That’s kind of what Allan is doing now, except on a much grander scale. In many ways, he, too, is propelling the world faster into the future.
“We use materials that people pay to dispose of and turn it into low-cost, transportation-grade diesel fuel, and we do that with almost no emissions,” said Allan, who spent Thursday taking media on tours of the plant for its official launch.
Allan points to the barbecue area preparing beef and chicken burgers, and says not one scrap from the day’s lunch will wind up in the landfill. Every paper plate, every plastic fork and knife, every piece of meat or discarded hamburger bun is going into making fuel — first by chopping everything up into two-inch pieces before being ground into a sand-like consistency.
All seven types of plastic (including the stuff that nobody else in the world wants), wood chips, grass clippings, used tires, cloth, food waste, organic wastes and even dirty diapers get turned into sand. Then, after the secret, powdered chemical catalyst is added, the potpourri of ground up garbage is heated to 350 C and out comes fuel.
“Everywhere you turn, garbage is becoming a bigger problem, and around the world people are looking for ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” said Allan. “Cielo offers a way to divert a great deal of waste from landfills, reduce emissions and we can replace the imported biodiesel that is currently being shipped into Canada from refineries in other parts of the world,” he said.
Instead of using expensive feedstocks such as soybeans, canola and animal tallow to make biodiesel, Cielo uses material that would just wind up in the landfill.
Canada imports hundreds of millions of litres of biodiesel, which is blended into Canadian diesel fuel, to reduce emissions. “Much of that fuel comes from agriculture feedstocks and our solution can replace it, meaning smaller landfills — not less farmland for food — and a smaller carbon footprint,” said Allan.
“The environmental upsides are nothing short of phenomenal,” he added.
“We want to make this the greenest company ever built in the world and we think we’re on our way. You’d be hard pressed to find a greener company anywhere. That’s our whole business model,” said Allan.
Cielo, a publicly traded company on the CSE, has confirmed plans to build joint-venture refineries in Grande Prairie, Calgary, Medicine Hat and Brooks. Once built and operating at full capacity, Cielo’s five Alberta plants are expected to each produce 2,000 litres of renewable fuel per hour, literally turning trash into treasure. Those five plants will divert about 128,000 tonnes of waste annually from landfill sites. Canada generates about 31 million tonnes of garbage per year, so this company’s feedstock will never run out.
The company plans to expand into the United States and then around the world.
There are so many upsides to this technology. Food waste and other organic material is a significant contributor to climate change, since landfills produce methane gas — which is 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), about 30 per cent of food is wasted globally — adding up to eight per cent of total global greenhouse gas emissions. The FAO states that if food waste were a country, it would be the third largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world, trailing only China and the U.S.
Allan says Cielo offered to pay to bring the infamous 69 containers of Canadian garbage left putrefying in the Philippines for six years to the plant to turn it into renewable diesel. Instead, the federal government paid a Vancouver firm $375,000 to burn it and turn it into electricity, as they believed that was the most environmentally friendly option at the time. No longer.
“Our technology changes everything for the better,” Allan said with a smile. Turning garbage into gold sure sounds like it.
Licia Corbella is a Postmedia opinion columnist.