Heavenly Trash – Dream in the sky or bringing it down to earth? Cielo and the future of waste to renewable diesel : Biofuels Digest

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Cielo – it means “sky” in Spanish but some also use the word Cielo to refer to Heaven, bringing with it images of stunning white puffy clouds filled with clean air and hope. So it’s an appropriate name for Cielo Waste Solutions. After all they are taking trash and converting it into something valuable – renewable diesel – and that is pretty dreamy when you think about it.

Find out how Cielo turns trash to treasure, why they love anything with cellulosic fiber, how they plan on becoming a multi-billion, yes, Billion, dollar company in five years, their plans for 40 plants, and more, all in an exclusive Digest interview with Don Allan, Cielo’s CEO.

Trash to Treasure

Cielo Waste Solutions isn’t a new company by any means. They’ve been around for 15 years and according to Cielo’s CEO Don Allan exclusive interview with The Digest, they tried out 53 feedstocks over the years and almost 3 years ago began construction of their 1st commercial refinery. Now they can take anything that has a cellulosic fiber and convert it into pretty useful stuff, like diesel. This includes organic wastes, municipal solid waste, all plastics, tires, anything from trees, which include sawmill waste, railroad ties, power poles, paper and cardboard.

Cielo can take all 7 plastics – you know those recycle numbers on the bottom of plastic containers. Yes, ANY plastic, and not just the glorious #1 and #2 plastics that recyclers love so much, but also bioplastic, Styrofoam, PVC, and any other plastic you can think of.

And get this, even if they are contaminated, even if they have cigarette butts, wood waste, paper and even tires thrown in the mix, it doesn’t matter to Cielo. Like a heavyweight boxer that just keeps standing hit after hit, they can take it all – just no metals or glass. And that’s why they say they can be a multi-billion dollar company in five years…you read that right, billions, not millions.

How do they do it?

Cielo blasts the trash into powder using soundwave technology, use their secret ingredient – a catalyst – and convert it into gas, heat it to 350 degrees Celsius, and boil it into naphtha diesel and other useful stuff. They don’t burn the trash, they liquify it, which means no air pollution, according to Allan, who has dreams of making Cielo the “greenest refinery in the world.”

But there must be waste, right? Of course there is waste, but it’s an impressively low 8% which is mostly ash that can be cleaned up and spread onto a farmer’s field someday. “While Cielo is still evaluating what comes out of that waste,” said Allan in a Digest exclusive interview, “from an engineering perspective, it is inert and has nitrogen and sulphur which can be used for soil purposes, as fertilizer.”

They achieved one of their first big milestones back in April with their first sale of renewable diesel – 6,000 liters to its first customer at $1.00 per litre. This sale confirmed that, even before desulphurization occurs, there is a potential market for Cielo’s renewable fuels.

Expansion

Their process is patent-pending and the catalyst is a trade secret, but don’t worry, they aren’t keeping all this goodness to themselves. Allan told The Digest that they are looking internationally at the U.S., Caribbean, and other overseas locations as well as locally and in Canada for partnerships to get things going a bit quicker.

In fact, Allan told The Digest that they have five joint ventures now, each one with separate investors and separate legal entities, including the one we reported on in early August when Cielo entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with Renewable U Lethbridge Inc. to build a renewable diesel refinery in the City of Lethbridge, Alberta. Allan told The Digest that Cielo just received the balance of the $250,000 joint venture fee (Renewable U LA advanced to Cielo $100,000 already).

Lionel Robins, CEO of Renewable U LA, said, “We are pleased with the favorable response we are receiving from key stakeholders in Alberta. This further demonstrates to us that we are not the only ones that believe in the unique and proprietary technology that Cielo is commercializing. Not only do we feel positive about having advanced $1 Million in JV Fees to Cielo and the way things are progressing at Cielo’s Aldersyde refinery, but we are also proud and honored to be contributing to Cielo achieving their goal to have Canada be recognized as a world-leader in solving the planet’s garbage crisis through green renewable fuel technologies.”

As for when construction will start, Allan said he expects all five of the joint ventures to start commissioning in Q4 2020. Seymour Capital is working with them on the Calgary project, and Renewable U Energy Inc. and its affiliated companies are financing the Cielo JV refineries to be built in Lethbridge, Grande Prairie, Medicine Hat and Brooks.

City of Calgary

Cielo is helping the city of Calgary with a pretty stinky problem…the city has tons of trash they are holding onto in storage because it’s those pesky clamshell containers and oddball plastics that recyclers don’t want. So instead of putting them into a landfill, the city is paying $25,000 a month in storage fees for this trash.

But here comes Cielo, a ‘heavenly’ solution for the city because it can take that trash off their hands and convert it into renewable diesel. Cielo is doing a trial run right now, having already run 40 pounds through their pilot plant and looking at running the balance through their commercial plant this week. While there is lots of paperwork involved, Allan is hoping they can move quickly to help the city get the costly junk off its hands which is in fact lovely feedstock for Cielo’s diesel. Allan told The Digest that they are “in discussions with the city for more feedstock and a longer-term partnership to feed the proposed new refineries in Calgary.”

As for where the diesel is going right now, it’s being sold to Elbow River Marketing, part of Parkland Fuels.

Allan noted that they can get a pretty penny for their diesel too because the renewable market in their area is close to C$1.80 a liter (about $1.35 US). Why so high? Because Canada is importing diesel from overseas like Brazil and Singapore so it’s at a premium. Even better, Cielo’s diesel has no water in it so they can use it year-round up in colder climates like Canada because it won’t have any freezing issues in the winter.

What the future holds?

“Canada has a mandate for renewables, but no one makes it for our market locally, so it’s very frustrating for the refineries buying the bio-diesel,” said Allan. So Cielo wants to do something about it. That’s why they hope to build more plants, but they need feedstock – trash, construction waste, etc.

Allan told The Digest that they are in discussions with municipalities and other cities in order to get feedstock, as well as with waste collection companies to move things forward. They have a multi-year contract with Mountain Eco Products for kiln-dried saw dust as a feedstock but are evaluating all opportunities right now to grow even more.

Allan told The Digest that Cielo’s goal is to do 40 more partnerships and facilities in the next three years, focusing on North America and Caribbean and will likely take 5 to 6 years to get all of them up and running.

“If we get all 40 refineries in the next 5 years, we will be a multi-billion-dollar company,” said Allan. “But more importantly, we have to be green. We don’t emit harmful emissions, we reduce landfill use, we don’t depend on weather and crops and don’t compete with food.” Allan noted that Cielo’s next step is to look at using green electricity to power their facilities to make them even greener.

As for tackling the landfill issue even more, Cielo wants to become an importer of plastics in next few years, like Asia has been. “We buy this product, we pay them for it, we aren’t looking for handouts,” said Allan. “We’ve never found a plastic we can’t handle and other waste streams like tires, railroad ties, telephone poles, MSW, organic wastes – anything but rock, dirt, metal and glass.” Can any other company out there say that? That’s the billion-dollar question.



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