Current Issue
This Month's Print Issue

Follow Fast Company

We’ll come to you.


For finding the hidden power of trash


Enerkem's ethanol process uses a gasifier to break down waste material into a synthetic gas made of C02 and hydrogen, which is then converted into ethanol.

Photograph by: Enerkem

Waste not, want not? How about want more waste? Founded in 2000, Montreal-based Enerkem is currently building two commercial-scale plants that turn trash into fuel. The father-and-son team, Esteban and Vincent Chornet, has developed a proprietary thermo-chemical system that uses pressure, chemicals, and 800 degrees of heat to recycle 15 different kinds of trash into renewable electricity, chemicals for plastic, and ethanol that can run cars.

In the long term, this could be a powerfully positive solution for the 135 million tons of city trash that end up in landfills in the United States each year, from discarded sofas to plastic packaging. The Department of Energy estimates that, taken together, biomass—including municipal waste, construction rubble, and farm and yard waste—could fulfill more than 40% of our energy needs. At right, we look at the three-step process of turning basic household trash from landfills into fuel.