Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut May 22, 2014 - 10:04 am

Iqaluit’s CanNor-funded gasification scheme gets bogged down

Experimental plant needs zoning changes, electrical rewiring

PETER VARGA
Iqaluit City Council hopes its pilot project to run a waste-to-energy system like this one, known as the Micro Auto Gasification System (MAGS), will help keep garbage out of the city’s heaping landfill, as well as cut energy costs at the new aquatic centre. (PHOTO COURTESY CITY OF IQALUIT)
Iqaluit City Council hopes its pilot project to run a waste-to-energy system like this one, known as the Micro Auto Gasification System (MAGS), will help keep garbage out of the city’s heaping landfill, as well as cut energy costs at the new aquatic centre. (PHOTO COURTESY CITY OF IQALUIT)

Iqaluit’s try at a new garbage-disposal technology is proving to be more complicated than city council expected.

Touted as a state-of-the-art technology that reduces household waste to eight per cent of its volume, the “micro auto gasification system” (MAGS) seemed a perfect fit for the Nunavut capital, where the city’s overflowing dump is an environmental hazard.

City council received federal funding April 8, from the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency, to try out the new technology as a pilot project.

But the city will not meet its goal of starting the project by the end of this summer, thanks to zoning bylaws and complicated technical specifications.

“The timeframe was to try to get this thing set up in July,” Keith Couture, the city’s director of public works, told city council’s engineering and public works committee of the whole May 20.

“Well, that isn’t going to happen.”

Developed by Montreal-based Terragon Environmental Technologies Inc., MAGS breaks down household waste by heating it up, transforming most of it into gas.

That gas powers the unit itself, and can also be used to generate heat.

The Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency contributed $350,000 towards the $501,500 gasification system, and the city covered the remaining $151,500.

City council unanimously supported the pilot project as a one-year “learning exercise,” according to a discussion paper by the city’s department of public works.

Once done, the city could include MAGS into its waste management plan.

The system, due to arrive in Iqaluit this summer by sealift, can break down up to half a tonne (500 kilograms) of household garbage per day.

This is just a small fraction of Iqaluit’s daily garbage production, which according to public works amounts to almost 25 tonnes daily.

In theory, the system would be installed in any large building, which it could heat as it consumes garbage daily.

In practice, finding such a building in Iqaluit is not as obvious as the city once thought.

The system can only be added to a building that is zoned to include waste disposal or waste treatment, Couture said. Even then, MAGS power systems must be compatible with the building it serves.

“We’re putting a generator in,” Couture said, which means installation is not simply a case of plugging it into a power outlet.

The host building “has to be rewired, to take the generator,” he said.

City directors were in favour of installing the system in locations that do not require rezoning, Couture said, such as the landfill and wastewater treatment facilities.

City council, on the other hand, said at the May 20 meeting they were in favour of installing the system at public facilities.

Councillors pointed to the Arnaitok Complex, which houses an arena, the fire hall, and city hall.

The main advantage of that site is its location next to the city’s aquatic centre, slated for completion in 2016.

Councillors noted the new technology could help decrease energy costs of the new facility.

“I know the O and M [operation and maintenance costs] on the aquatic centre sort of scares me,” said Coun. Terry Dobbin.

“So anything that could decrease the costs to the aquatic centre would be the logical reason,” he said.

Rezoning Arnaitok or any other building to be able to take on the waste disposal unit would take six to eight months, according to Colin MacPhee of city’s planning department.

“I don’t think we need to be scared about rezoning,” Coun. Kenny Bell said.

The benefits of installing the gasification system at Arnaitok, next to the future aquatic centre “far outweigh the work that’s going to be required to rezone,” he said.

Couture said the city’s next step will be to work out specifics on the site proposal.

“We’re not in a rush, which I’m glad to hear,” Couture said. “Once we’re ready to put it [MAGS] in, we’ll know everything to expect because it will be researched properly.”

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