The Future of Clean Energy – Sierra Energy Gets $33 Million in Funding to Make It So

Sierra Energy’s FastOx gasification facility at U.S. Army Garrison Fort Hunter Liggett in Monterey County, California.

After years of seeking to develop the technology and get the funding, the Davis company Sierra Energy announced on Monday that it had received a $33 million Series A investment from by Breakthrough Energy Ventures.

The funding will help Sierra Energy further develop and commercialize its revolutionary FastOx® gasification technology, which converts virtually any waste into clean, renewable energy and fuels without burning.

According to their release, the technology, developed by Sierra Energy and supported by grant funding from the Department of Defense and the California Energy Commission, uses oxygen and steam to heat waste to 4,000°F (2,200°C).

“I was really excited about actually being able to talk about it,” said Mike Hart, Sierra Energy’s CEO.  “We’ve been involved in this process for over a year now – all of the technological due diligence which took a long time for the investors to really understand our technology, how it works.  The proof that it works.

“It’s a very exciting day for our company,” he said.

The technology sounds like something out of a science fiction movie, but Mike Hart explained that it was actually based on very simple concepts.

“What we’re doing is we’re not burning anything,” he said.  “We’re heating it up to 4000 degrees Fahrenheit.  At that temperature, things break down molecularly.  Metals melt.  Inorganic solids turn into liquids.  Everything else gets driven off as a gas which is just about entirely carbon monoxide and hydrogen (which are) then fuel gasses.”

“You can take those gasses and you can make energy, you can make liquid fuel – you can make diesel or ethanol.  Or you can actually make plastic.  It allows you to do mold recycling from just a bag of raw garbage – recycling everything that was in that bag, including the bag.”

Mike Hart explained that they have been working on this since 2004, doing the actual development.

“This is a breakthrough technology,” he said.  It has gone from university research, to pilot facilities and now their first commercial facility down in Monterey, California.

He said right now they are taking the system and continuing to operate for another year in a demonstration capacity.  “Just showing how the system works and demonstrating that,” he said.

After a year, they would go into a design phase.

He said, “We have over 8000 requests from all over the world from communities that are looking for a way to do something better with their garbage.”

Just how much can their system handle?

“The system that we’re going to be building can handle all of the waste from the city of Davis in a single vessel.  It’s about 50 metric tons per day,” Mr. Hart said.

He said, “Obviously you should recycle whatever makes economic sense.”  He said, “but if you miss it, we can catch it.”  He said, “Because it melts and is captured by gravity, we end up capturing everything.  It’s 100 percent recycled.”

The output is very clean.  There are only three things that come out of their system – liquid metal, liquid stone, and gas.

As mentioned, the first commercial-scale demonstration facility will be located at U.S. Army Garrison Fort Hunter Liggett in Monterey County, California.

In their release, Sierra Energy noted, “The world is drowning in trash which, when landfilled, is a leading generator of methane, a greenhouse gas that is 86 times more harmful to our climate than carbon dioxide.

“Our FastOx gasification technology can efficiently and cost-effectively convert this trash into electricity, hydrogen, renewable natural gas, diesel, ammonia, and a variety of other valuable end-products.

“When you combine our technology with recycling and other waste diversion strategies, you have the solution to the world’s waste problem as well as a valuable source of renewable energy.”

“Solid waste landfills are one of the largest producers of methane emissions in the U.S., which are far more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas,” said Carmichael Roberts of Breakthrough Energy Ventures.

He added, “Sierra Energy has introduced a transformative and cost-competitive waste-to-value solution for turning municipal garbage into renewable energy. The idea that we can reduce GHGs in a meaningful way while creating renewable energy is incredibly exciting. With this oversubscribed funding round, BEV, along with an impressive syndicate of global investors, is eager to help Sierra transition to its next phase of commercialization.”

Sierra Energy noted that the huge advantage here is the ability “to handle nearly any type of waste, including municipal solid waste, plastics, medical waste, e-waste, tires, batteries, railroad ties, and even hazardous wastes.”

They note: “Local developers configure the system to match local market needs. Since Sierra Energy’s FastOx gasifier is based on well-understood blast furnace technology, it is also robust, with long up-times and low maintenance requirements.”

“Sierra Energy is a great example of pioneering new technology that can positively impact our communities and our planet,” said Alex Taylor, president, and CEO of Cox Enterprises. “We believe in investing in like-minded businesses that share our vision for a brighter future and leaving things in better shape for the next generation.”

—David M. Greenwald reporting


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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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30 Comments

  1. Bill Marshall

    “We’re heating it up to 4000 degrees Fahrenheit.  At that temperature, things break down molecularly.  Metals melt.  Inorganic solids turn into liquids.  Everything else gets driven off as a gas which is just about entirely carbon monoxide and hydrogen (which are) then fuel gasses.”

    And so, what ‘vessel’ does this take place in?

    Seems it would take an incredible about of energy to produce fuel for energy…

    Something ‘smells funny’… PT Barnum could have gotten Federal grants easily…

     

    1. Mark West

      “Something ‘smells funny’”

      Yes, the big piles of trash that we keep putting in the ground. This technology turns those piles into energy and recoverable assets in a way that reduces greenhouse gas emissions. With your training Bill, so you should be able to understand what they are doing and ‘follow the numbers,’ just don’t expect a local blog or news item to describe it completely or entirely accurately.

        1. Ron Oertel

          Bill:  “Seems it would take an incredible about of energy to produce fuel for energy…

          David:  ” . . . it seemed like we would lose a lot of audience.”

          It “seems” that it would be obvious to address to this essential and basic point.

          1. David Greenwald

            It seems like that would be the job of Mike Hart, if he wishes to post here as he has in the past.

        2. Ron Oertel

          You didn’t even ask, before writing this article?

          That’s probably the first thing I’d ask. (Reminds me of the basic concerns regarding the production of ethanol, and government “involvement” with that.)

      1. Bill Marshall

        Mark… am familiar with the former processes known as pyrolysis plants… Ames, Iowa was one of the early ‘miracles’ of the concepts. https://www.biorenew.iastate.edu/research/thermochemical/fastpyrolysis/

        Take a look at the picture in this piece… think of accounting for all the mining, processing, operation, and maintenance costs for that single ‘facility’… and all the energy involved in all those… compare the other side of the ledger… cost reductions, reduced need for landfills, re-use of materials,and energy gain.

        If a truthful spreadsheet shows that this ‘technology’ has a significant net benefit, financially, environmentally, endergy, carbon footprint, etc., actually exists… but those are “facts not in evidence”, so I remain a serious skeptic…

        I believe we need to look at the total spreadsheet, not just think “that’s a really cool idea!”  Which is yet unproven as to efficacy.

        There is a ‘philosopher’s stone’ on E-bay, that will turn lead/base metals into gold… https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosopher%27s_stone … 

        Currently up to only $32 mm… such a deal…

        I remain skeptical, particularly for ‘sustainability’ of the Sierra Energy ‘miracle’ process… feel free to invest your money with them… I’d rather invest $5 to buy a meal for a homeless person… better chance of return on investment…

         

  2. Alan Miller

    will help Sierra Energy further develop and commercialize its . . .  gasification technology, which converts virtually any waste into clean, renewable energy and fuels without burning.

    Just keep in mind that the previous occupants of this r&d building told the public, through press releases, that its flying cars were just two years in the future — for 45 years, and acquired $40 million plus from trusting ‘investors’.  Just saying, if you want us to believe in your zeppelin is gonna fly, you might not want to build your r&d hanger at Lakehurst Naval Air Station and hire Herbert Morrison as your PR guy.

    1. Bill Marshall

      Do you mean Davis, or the area around Fort Hunter Liggett?  [as far as ‘nice amount of cash to be rippling out into the local economies where this company is located.”

      1. Don Shor

        Do you mean Davis, or the area around Fort Hunter Liggett? [as far as ‘nice amount of cash to be rippling out into the local economies where this company is located.”

        Both. Anywhere they have employees, basically.

        1. Craig Ross

          You guys are missing a big piece of this – Sierra Energy is developing an innovation center in Davis.  This is the kind of investment that helps push forward their efforts with that.

        2. Bill Marshall

          Fair answer, Don…

          At least in the short term… questions remain as to effectiveness of process, viability, in long term…

          But I’ll not invest until I see results… have relatives in Missouri…

          Craig… if you are considering investing, your risk, your choice…

          But it is a private company (just checked)… those are little subject to review…

  3. Craig Ross

    This is pretty interesting…  Breakthrough Energy Ventures, is a Bill Gates-led fund that also includes investors like Marc Benioff, Richard Branson, and Jeff Bezos.  

    Talk about big boys

  4. Craig Ross

    “The technology, called FastOx, uses a modified blast furnace, the same basic equipment typically used to make steel. By injecting pure oxygen into the furnace, the new process starts a chemical reaction with carbon in the waste, heating up the furnace. “This doesn’t require external energy,” Hart says. “It’s just a chemical reaction of carbon and oxygen.” The process also adds steam to regulate the temperature, which sustains itself as the system keeps feeding in more trash. Any metal inside the garbage melts and can later be reused.“

  5. Alan Miller

    “Developed for over many years and first flown in 2001 at the company’s shareholder meeting, the moller M400 skycar is a true collector’s (museum or private) piece. Over the last 30 years, moller international has spent more than $150 million developing the engine and airframe technology to make the prototype possible. the feasible, affordable and personal VTOL has eight rotary engines that provide a total of 720 horsepower to the propulsion fans. running on gasoline, ethanol or methanol, the M400 skycar has flown numerous times even though it has never been FAA approved.”

  6. Don Shor

    Moller International is a whole separate story in itself (they’re now in Dixon) but completely irrelevant to this story and, frankly, a pretty weird thing to bring up here.

  7. Alan Miller

     . . . and, frankly, a pretty weird thing to bring up here.

    I am pretty weird, and stop calling me Frankly.

    I called Moller International 7-8 years ago, and part of the phone message said (during business hours):  “Press 1 if you’d like to purchase plans for the flying car, press 2 if you’d like to purchase almond butter, press 3 . . . “.

    True story.  Though the almond butter may have been “press 4”.

    [ . . . and a tip of the hat to the late, great, Peter Graves.]

    1. Ron Oertel

      [ . . . and a tip of the hat to the late, great, Peter Graves.]

      I believe that the reference is actually to the late, great, Leslie Neilsen. (Although both appeared in the film you’re referring to.)

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