Mountains of waste are literally piling up in landfills around the world. Many companies are developing new technologies to solve the problem, turning waste into resources.
Sierra Energy, founded in California in 2004, has developed FastOx, a technology that would reduce waste a molecular level using heat, steam and oxygen. The technology, developed by Sierra Energy and supported by grant funding from the Department of Defense and the California Energy Commission, converts virtually any waste into clean, renewable energy and fuels without burning.
One of FastOx gasification’s greatest advantages is a proven 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. This feedstock flexibility, and the capacity to turn produced syngas into a variety of high-value end products, makes FastOx gasification versatile and economically efficient to implement. Local developers configure the system to match local market needs.
That all-encompassing strategy caught the eye of the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Army and the California Energy Commission. All three agencies contributed funding for Sierra to develop the FastOx system through a demonstration facility installed in 2017 at Fort Hunter Liggett in Monterey County, California.
The company says the installation will help the U.S. Army and DoD reach their zero-waste goal, as well as decrease their risks, costs and carbon footprint resulting from the transport and disposal of trash.
Basically, the FastOx system works like a blast furnace. Instead of feeding in fuel, however, FastOx creates its own fuel from the organic material in the waste stream.
Steam and oxygen are injected into the bottom of this system, and shredded waste is fed into the top. When the waste reaches a temperature range of 300°F to 1,000°F, the system produces a mix of light gases and condensable hydrocarbons from the organic waste. As these hydrocarbons react with the steam and oxygen, the system produces temperatures up to 4,000°F. The ultra-high temperature converts the remaining carbon into synthetic gas fuel (a.k.a. syngas) consisting mostly of carbon monoxide and hydrogen, which makes the process self-sustaining.
Due to the high heat, metals and other inorganic compounds melt without producing nitrogen oxide and other toxic byproducts. In addition to recovering solid materials, the system also recovers carbon monoxide and hydrogen, both of which can be used as fuels.
According to Sierra Energy, FastOx can process 20 tons per day of municipal solid waste and biomass, producing electricity and diesel fuel that is 20 times cleaner than the California’s fuel standard. Because 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.
Last month, the company received $33 million in Series A funding led by the clean tech investment group Breakthrough Energy Ventures, funders of which include Bill Gates and other leading global investors. Other companies that participated were Cox Investment Holdings, BNP Paribas, Twynam Investments, Formica Ventures and The March Fund I.