City of Surrey Unveils State-of-the-Art Biofuel Plant

The facility will convert organic matter into renewable natural gas

Surrey mayor Linda Hepner cuts the ribbon at the opening of the Surrey Biofuel Facility, Mar 9 2018. (flickr/Jinny Sims)

Surrey is undertaking a unique initiative by using discarded biomatter in green bins as renewable fuel.

As part of the effort to be more environmentally sustainable, the city recently opened the Surrey Biofuel Facility, a $68 million plant located in Port Kells Industrial Park. Food scraps and garden waste, which are collected once a week from the curbs of residents’ homes, will be left to ferment in enormous piles within the facility. The plant also has ventilation systems that prevent the stench from wafting outside the its walls.

In dry conditions, bacteria break down the biomatter over several weeks, causing methane gas to be produced. The methane is then captured and converted into natural gas, whereas excess biomatter is processed and turned into compost. The entire process takes approximately 90 days.

The natural gas produced in the biofuel plant will be used to fuel Surrey’s fleet of waste collection vehicles, and excess energy will be used to heat and cool Surrey City Centre. In addition, it will prevent 50,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases from being pumped into the atmosphere each year, according to a CBC report.

“There’s not one other system in North America that compares to what we have here,” says Mike Starchuk, a city councilor and the chair of the Sustainability Advisory Committee for the City of Surrey.

Dr. Paul Richard, chair of KPU’s environmental protection technology program, notes that there is no simple means of reversing climate change. Still, he believes that the utilization of biofuels instead of fossil fuels for energy is a step in the right direction.

“I applaud Surrey for doing that,” he says. “Surrey has proven, especially in environmental ladders, to be leaders now, anywhere from flood prevention to solid waste management.”

Starchuk says the plant was developed because the city became more conscious of where its green waste was going.

While the biofuel plant is the first of its kind in North America, there is a somewhat similar facility in Richmond called Harvest, which deals with solid waste management. Unfortunately, Harvest has been bombarded by complaints about the smell from the public, sometimes up to 200 per month, especially during the summer. Starchuk says that Surrey was determined to avoid repeating the mistakes that were made with the Richmond facility.

The city implemented waste collection policies which separate green waste, recyclables, and garbage. Starchuk says the participation rate in this process was almost instantly at 80 per cent, calling it “a huge success.” The municipal government was confident that this level of participation warranted a biofuel plant, even before consulting restaurants and processing facilities.

Starchuk calls the plant part of a “closed loop” system. Surrey’s waste management fleet collects the green waste, takes it to the biofuel plant, and converts it into natural gas. This natural gas then goes to fuel waste collection vehicles, thus forming a cycle of renewable energy and sustainability. The energy produced by the plant can also fuel the district energy system at city centre and other city-owned natural gas vehicles at no added cost to taxpayers.

At 160,000 square feet, the plant is capable of producing 120,000 gigajoules of renewable natural gas annually which, according to the facility website, is enough to power 8,500 cars for a year.

“Finally someone’s taking the chance on a relatively new technology,” says Richard. “It’s quite remarkable, the engineering that goes in there.”

Starchuk hopes that the plant will educate citizens about what happens to their green waste and encourage them to be more conscious about their energy habits.