CHEE301 Resource Recovery from Waste

CHEE Technical Complementary course
Next time offered: Winter 2017
Prerequisites: CHEE204, CHEE220
Instructor: Prof. Sylvain Coulombe

The very reason I decided to develop this course has its roots in my personal life. Over the last few years I have become very much aware of the huge “waste” problems we, humans, created with our linear (one-way) economy model in which resources are extracted, transformed, used and disposed of. I came to realize that waste is energy and material in an undesirable form. Why did we let valuable resources end up in the waste bin? Aren’t all objects we like and depend on made of the same chemical elements we find in our waste? Why don’t we impose on ourselves, engineers, the hard constraint to close the material and energy loops at the design phase? I have become passionate about these questions. My personal learning journey is marked by encounters with passionate but realistic and pragmatic individuals who share the same passion and curiosity. I now know something about and understand the importance of collaborative consumption, life cycle analysis, social acceptance, circular economy and engineering, and a panoply of other emerging concepts we are now immersed in. As an educator, I see this course as an eye-opener that I hope will convince the “doers” (engineers) to think sustainably from the design room to the product’s first end-of-life.

Link to McGill calendar description


Sustaining our modern lifestyle requires an increasing demand on natural (primary) resources, materials and energy to be more specific. This creates stresses on the natural resources’ linear journey (extraction=>transformation=>use=>disposal), and causes interconnected challenges (environmental, economical, political, societal and ethical). In every step of this linear journey, material and energy are lost and solid, liquid and gaseous waste is produced. There is now a realization that primary resources (material and energy) are not infinite and that the linear model isn’t sustainable. Resource recovery from waste can be achieved by closing material and energy loops, but this endeavor brings in its own challenges. This course focuses initially on resource recycling and recovery. Then, the course leads the Chemical Engineering student to understand how closing the material and energy loops is a fundamental basis for sustainability, and how this end goal impacts upfront considerations such as material and energy sourcing, and process and product design. The implementation of resource recovery measures and processing plants is analyzed considering the technical, economic, regulatory and political angles, as well as social acceptance. The course ends with an introduction to Circular Economy.

R. Botsman, R. Rogers 2010, What’s Mine is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption, HarperCollins.
N. Klein 2014, This Changes Everything, Capitalism vs. the Climate, Alfred A. Knopf Canada.
W. McDonough, M. Braungart 2002, Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, North Point Press.
W. McDonough, M. Braungart 2013, The Upcycle, North Point Press.
K. Webster 2015, The Circular Economy: A Wealth of Flows, Ellen MacArthur Foundation Publishing.

Fun and inspirational
D. Backderf 2015, Trashed, Abrams ComicArts (also as iBook).

Regional e-Waste Monitor: East and Southeast Asia (2016)
State of Waste Management in Canada (2014)

Online resources
Youtube videos I find instructive and well-done
Waste Management and Research journal
Journal of Industrial Ecology
Resources, Conservation and Recycling journal
Waste online (in-depth information on waste)
The Story of Stuff
Sankey diagrams
La Semaine Verte (in French)

Foundations and councils

David Suzuki Foundation
Ellen MacArthur Foundation
Canada’s National Zero Waste Council

Local companies (material & energy recovery from waste)

CO2 Solutions

Terragon Environmental Technologies

Some large-scale resource recovery initiatives
Complexe Environmental de Saint-Michel – CESM (in French)
City of San Francisco Zero Waste program
Waste-to-Energy plant Copenhill/Amager Bakke, Copenhagen, Denmark