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