How W&Y Environmental is solving our waste problemMelissa Embury - August 7, 2019
One million a minute: that’s the rate at which people are buying plastic bottles today.
By 2050, experts estimate the ocean will contain more plastic, by weight, than fish. And while efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle might be making a dent in those numbers, a whopping 91 per cent of plastic still isn’t recycled.
Waste in landfills is poisoning our air, and junk in our oceans is killing our marine life.
The need for a landfill waste management solution has never been more pressing. Over 2 billion tonnes of landfill waste and 37 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions are generated every year according to the World Bank.
Figuring out a sustainable solution to our garbage issue isn’t a simple task – but there’s hope. W&Y Environmental, a Waterloo-based environmental and sustainable energy technology company led by founder, chairman, CTO, inventor and biochemical engineer Xu Fei (Philip) Wu, is tackling the problem head-on with a unique process that turns greenhouse gases and landfill waste into biofuel.
From waste to sustainable energy
With research and development offices based in Waterloo, Ont. and China, Wu and his team are turning waste into green energy with their breakthrough WXF technology.
“W&Y Environmental’s patented processes transform industrial CO2 emissions to bio-methanol and waste treatment facilities into centres for sustainable green energy production,” he says.
It starts at the landfill, where their WXF technology maximizes the amount of biogas generated by our waste. Then they remove hazardous chemicals like hydrogen sulfide, a highly toxic and flammable gas, leaving the rest for fuel. The process also speeds up the turnaround period of the site, allowing a landfill to be used indefinitely.
This innovative approach solves both the problem of waste management and the world’s growing need for cleaner power and chemicals, says Wu.
Today, the world generates about 2 billion tonnes of waste every year. In the next 30 years, that number is expected to increase to 3.4 billion tones per year.
Plus, their system is the elusive combo of cost-effective and clean, a tantalizing prospect for the parts of our planet increasingly burdened with growing landfills and garbage patches.
That includes Canada, by the way. Here at home, there are about 2,400 active landfills (large and small, public and private) that generate more than 34 million tonnes of waste annually, according to the Conference Board of Canada. Since many landfill sites are over capacity, waste needs to be transported elsewhere to be buried or burnt, adding to costs. Sometimes that trip spans thousands of kilometres.
These sites also produce both liquid and gas wastes that are toxic and must be treated, which is an extremely expensive process, says Wu.
Being a cheaper option, his system holds the potential for disruption locally and in the rest of the developed world.
The result? A practical solution to stop alarming pollution of the land and water while appealing to large-scale municipal landfills.
His life’s work
The tech is a culmination of Wu’s work over the past 30 years. In fact, environmental issues and sustainable solutions are threads that weave throughout his life.
He holds not one but two separate masters degrees in biochemical engineering and organometallic chemistry (that’s the study of organic molecules that contain metal). For 25 years, he has worked in environmental and sustainable energy. Before founding W&Y Environmental, he worked for Conestoga-Rovers & Associates Limited, Microbe Environmental Science and Technology Inc. of Canada and The Ministry of Nuclear Industry and Ministry of Space Flight Industry of China.
But it wasn’t until Wu read Nobel Prize winner George Olah’s book, Beyond Oil and Gas: The Methanol Economy, that he realized the possibilities of using methanol generated from biomass and waste products, as well as carbon dioxide capture and recycling, to replace fossil fuels.
Wu then became increasingly concerned with the major challenge posed by looming environmental issues causing global warming due to the massive increase in fossil fuel use.
Wu connected the dots between that problem and his biochemical background to find solutions and promote the importance of solid waste management for future sustainable, healthy and inclusive cities and communities.
Which led him to where he is today. “My main goal has always been to provide the world with clean sources of energy through my 30 years of experience,” he says.
Finding their own greenspace
W&Y Environmental’s mandate for sustainability extends beyond the technology they create, too.
Their Canadian home base is in evolv1, Canada’s first zero-carbon building. Walking into their office is a breath of fresh air – quite literally, thanks to the 12-metre-tall living wall in the atrium, which consists of approximately 4,500 individual plants that help clean the air.
The space generates more energy than it consumes through an innovative geothermal well system, 28 electric vehicle charging stations and a solar array with over 2,000 solar panels that displace 110 tons of CO2 annually. (That’s the equivalent amount produced by 130 cars a year.) The building is designed to give more energy back to the grid than it consumes by producing 108 per cent of its needs on-site.
As a tenant of The Accelerator Centre’s evolv1 space, W&Y Environmental supports green energy and cleantech in more ways than one.
W&Y Environmental also supports evolvGREEN, a collaborative partnership between Sustainable Waterloo Region, the University of Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier University, the Accelerator Centre, the City of Waterloo and the Region of Waterloo. It’s a workspace that connects academic research, industry partners and entrepreneurs to drive the development and growth of a local clean economy.
As cleantech tenants of the innovation space that houses them, the company collaborates with the community in new and exciting ways – all focused around a culture of sustainability and a collective commitment to the environment.
The future of waste
While the numbers about our waste are daunting, initiatives like W&Y Environmental and evolvGREEN show we have the technology to turn things around. Plus, Wu says, there is an increasing demand for turning emissions into biofuel.
In fact, according to market analyst Grand View Research, the global market for turning rubbish into power is expected to reach almost $38 billion by 2020.
It’s not just good for the environment – the market for biofuel is expected to reach $38 billion by 2020.
As for W&Y Environmental’s future, they were recently accepted into this year’s cohort with the Accelerator Centre’s JumpStart Program and will receive $30,000 in seed funding and $10,000 of professional mentorship to continue their research and development.
And Wu’s future plans for the environmental industry?
“Zero landfills,” he says.
- Name: W&Y Environmental Inc.
- Solution: Clean energy and waste management
- Owners: Xu Fei (Philip) Wu
- Employees: 4 + 2 volunteers
- Headquarters: Waterloo, Ont.
- Founded: 2018
- Initial investment: $300,000
- Revenue: Pre-revenue
- Contact: [email protected]