Jonathan Osborne, a Yukon entrepreneur, was not happy with the territory’s waste management systems, so he decided to change it.
Osborne, who grew up in a remote community near the Champagne/Aishihik First Nation, developed a first-of-its-kind desktop bio-digester, a 227-litre unit designed to convert household organic waste into usable gas, as well as several other small-scale digester concepts aimed at managing landfill and mining camp waste.
“We believe that Canada’s waste management system is inefficient and contributes significantly to Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions,” said Osborne, who is the chief executive of Balance BioGas (BBG). “Currently, there is no solution at present that addresses these inefficiencies in our waste management and recycling practices as well as reducing overall system GHG [greenhouse gas emsisions]. We are aiming to demonstrate our process can deliver both.”
Osborne’s technology is based on anaerobic digestion, a renewable energy process that uses microorganisms naturally found in cow manure to break down organic waste and convert it to usable methane gas in an air-free environment.
“The real value of our approach is that we’re offering true energy security,” he said. “With our desktop digester, for example, we’re allowing people to take food scraps from their home, put them into a digester and then collect methane gas in a very safe manner at the back end – with food scraps from a family of five translating into cooking gas for a family of five.”
However, Osborne explains that he hasn’t developed the anaerobic digestion (AD) process itself. Instead, he said, anaerobic digestion occurs naturally and the real workhorse is the bacteria.
The digesters work like simulated stomachs, requiring the right ratio of water, manure (bacteria) and organic waste at the right temperature — body temperature or 37 degrees Celsius — to work optimally and produce the most methane.
The methane, according to Osborne, is safely captured and put to work to “heat things, burn things or produce electricity,” adding that the nutrient-rich sludge left behind can be re-used as rich compost material.
Osborne said his team is working on two different scales of bio-digesters. The first, developed in partnership with Yukon University’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship division, is a micro scale digester that can service a household of up to five.
“This is a first of its kind in North America,” he said. “To-date, it had been considered to be economically unfeasible to make a system this small but we managed to set our system up for $6,000” in equipment costs.
He added that they are also working on a plan for a larger system sized to service a community of up to 700 people.
This will largely be possible through partnerships with the Casino Mine Corporation and Selkirk Development Corporation to investigate the feasibility of a system of that size, according to Osborne.
“Should it prove feasible, this will truly be a game changer for AD tech implementation in Canada, and the whole West,” he noted. “For this scale, if it proves to be technically feasible, we will be working towards a full-scale pilot study in the next couple of years.”
Osborne said he and his collaborators haven’t taken their products to market yet because they are still in the early stages of development.
“I don’t foresee us going to the market with any of them for another couple of years,” he said. “We are breaking so much new ground that we are focusing on the market potential, and technical feasibility before we start looking at taking our products to market.”
Osborne said their partnerships have been solely focused on “creating and supporting the technical investigation of the various products our company has and will be creating.”
At the moment, Osborne said they are working with different partners to develop products such as a marketing tool called the Economic Assessment Dashboard which he is partnering with Mitacs and CMC Microsystems.
Mitacs is a not-for-profit organization that fosters growth and innovation in Canada by solving business challenges with research solutions from academic institutions while CMC Microsystems is a not-for-profit organization accelerating research and innovation in advanced technologies.
“We’re delighted to be working with an up-and-coming technology leader in the Yukon, and to expand our project portfolio in northern Canada,” said Gordon Harling, president and chief executive of CMC Microsystems.
Another product is the desk-top scale digester which will serve a family of five and produce cooking fuel, nutrient solution and soil compost and is done in partnership with the Yukon Agriculture Branch and Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
The Waste Assessment Approach, a product Osborne is working with partners, is a detailed methodology to assess the various volumes of waste available to a particular client. Osborne said this is closely tied to their dashboard and provides the data for the dashboard to compute.
Osborne said they are in the early stages of this investigation but are “excited with the potential we are already seeing.”
When the News asked Osborne what has been the reception of his innovation among Yukoners, he said it has been received with “interest and excitement.”
“Everyone we have talked with over the last five years agrees that something needs to be done about our waste management system and they haven’t heard of a better idea than ours,” he said. “We are looking at the entire system, identifying areas of inefficiency and using the energy you can capture through anaerobic digestion to address them in a carbon neutral manner.”
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