From Trash to Treasure: How a Saskatoon Start-Up is Working to Solve our Garbage Problem

Peter Voldeng is up to big things. With the launch of VDQ-NRG, a Saskatoon-based sustainable tech company that is revolutionizing the way communities manage landfill waste, the innovator and professional engineer is on a mission to turn garbage into substances that fuel our daily lives. 

But Voldeng’s big dreams come from humble beginnings, when the entrepreneur was growing up on his parents’ farm in Saskatchewan. Via video conference, Voldeng recounts the time he helped his dad unload a truckful of garbage at the local dump. “Do you know what a dump looks like to a six-year-old? It's a goldmine. Here I was trying to load stuff back into the truck as my dad was unloading it… and all I got to take home is what I could hide in my pockets…” 

That instinct to salvage seemingly useless items, and transform them into something that can benefit society, is what inspired Voldeng to market a technology that can turn landfill waste into something that can be readily used by the local community. This is also the driving principal of the circular economy, an idea gaining momentum as scientists and governments come to terms with the fact that when it comes to our garbage problem, there is really no such thing as “away.” “There are cities that have had to be abandoned because their waste problem got so big that they could no longer grow the city, and people moved because it was no longer a pleasant place to stay… Something in the neighbourhood of 2.01 billion tonnes of garbage is being produced this year by people,” Voldeng explains.

VDQ-NRG’s innovative technology, called hydrothermal liquefaction, has the power to convert organic material into a substance similar to crude oil. The company’s technology also produces carbon black which can be used as a strengthening agent for tires, and as an ingredient in asphalt. If that wasn’t impressive enough, VDQ-NRG’s innovations can be integrated into facilities with other technology to convert 90% of landfill waste into a liquid hydrocarbon fuel—which most of us know as diesel fuel. 

Although Voldeng hopes to see VDQ-NRG’s technology implemented in cities around the globe one day, he says it makes more sense to start small in communities where there are fewer barriers to entry. “What we've done is, we have developed a business model that allows our technology to be implemented into smaller communities of 40,000 to 80,000 people. We can put these facilities in and [process] all the waste in these communities, [making landfills obsolete],” he explains. Along with helping communities become more sustainable, Voldeng says VDQ-NRG’s technology will also benefit them financially by creating employment opportunities. 

Voldeng’s vision is that VDQ-NRG’s technology is built into the local infrastructure to the point that it becomes second nature for citizens, in much the same way people expect water to come out of the tap, or the streetlights to come on at night, he says. 

But getting to that point will require a mind shift, Voldeng believes. “I go back to a quote from Albert Einstein. ‘We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.’” 

To learn more about VDQ-NRG visit

Tags: waste management, landfill waste, recycle, hydrothermal liquefaction, liquid hydrocarbon fuel, sustainable tech, start up