Trash to Gas: Unglamorous but Cool Energy Technology

Innovation in the Internet industry has tended to occur in marketing and software engineering. In clean tech, a lot of the innovation is in engineering but also in basic science, such as chemistry and physics. The other day I saw a presentation about what you’d think was a thoroughly mundane topic: extracting energy from waste. But when you understand the context, this is a cool opportunity.

Bill Davis, CEO of Ze-Gen was presenting at Greentech Media’s electricity conference this week. He described his technology for converting waste from construction sites into syngas, or synthetic gas, a valuable fuel with numerous industrial uses.

I found some of the stats in Bill’s presentation especially compelling:

  • Over 4 billion metric tons of waste generated each year (World Waste Survey, 2006)
  • 1 ton of solid waste produces the equivalent of about 1 ton CO2e GHG (US EPA 2002)
  • Solid waste contains >50% of the energy value of coal per ton
  • Only 2% of this is used

Here’s some info from the EPA on the lifecycle of waste.

Ze-Gen’s process involves immersing waste in a pool of molten iron. The heat breaks down the molecules in the waste, releasing the gas, which is then captured and can be processed further or sold.

Ze-Gen’s revenues are expected to come principally from selling the gas to industrial buyers but also from “tipping fees”–the fees that companies disposing large amounts of industrial waste must pay to whoever agrees to take it.

It appears that Ze-Gen and other companies working on this application (there seem to be at least a dozen) have an opportunity to make money while shrinking landfills and reducing the greenhouse gas emissions. A big win all around.


1 Comment

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One response to “Trash to Gas: Unglamorous but Cool Energy Technology

  1. Each option for fueling our lives comes with pros and cons. Regardless of which option turns out to be the choice, the big obstacle to adoption will be distribution. One only has to look south to Brazil to see what it took that county to convert the auto fuel system. Many years, billions in expense, and a military government bent on converting.

    Converting to ethanol, priceless? Maybe not but the point is that no matter what ends up being our best choice(s), the supply chain and distribution has to be part of the equation.

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