Waste Management invests in trash-to-energy tech

The trash-hauling giant creates a joint venture called S4 Energy Solutions to build plasma gasification systems that convert separated industrial wastes into electricity and liquid fuels.

Martin LaMonica Former Staff writer, CNET News
Martin LaMonica is a senior writer covering green tech and cutting-edge technologies. He joined CNET in 2002 to cover enterprise IT and Web development and was previously executive editor of IT publication InfoWorld.
Martin LaMonica
2 min read

Municipal trash giant Waste Management on Thursday created a joint venture that will turn waste into energy using technology that it says is cleaner than incinerators.

S4 Energy Solutions is a joint venture which will use plasma gasification technology from InEnTec of Bend, Ore., to build distributed energy systems. Waste Management financed the creation of the venture, marking the first time that the trash collector has invested in gasification technology, said Senior Vice President Joseph Vaillancourt.

The new company plans to build distributed energy systems that use separated industrial waste as a "feedstock." For example, the company plans to design systems that can turn medical waste into electricity at hospitals, said Jeffrey Surma, the president and CEO of S4 Energy Solutions.

There are a number of mostly small companies that are developing trash-to-energy systems around gasification. One company, Enerkem, on Wednesday passed the environmental regulatory process and won approval to build a facility to turn municipal solid trash into ethanol and chemicals in Edmonton, Alberta.

Rather than burn trash, gasification heats the material at very high temperatures until it breaks down and produces a synthesis gas, or syngas. That syngas can be burned in a natural gas turbine, which is considered a relatively clean way to make electricity. S4 Energy Solutions said that it can also make ethanol, other liquid fuels, or potentially hydrogen.

The InEnTec product has a process for cleaning the syngas. Initial tests show that the level of environmental pollutants dioxins and furens released is low, Surma said.


"The emissions from a power generating facility would be far better than EPA requirements, comparable if not better than a power generator operating on natural gas," he said, adding that the company hopes to have customers later this year.

The technology was originally developed in the early 1990s at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Surma said.

S4 Energy's planned gasification systems won't replace incinerators but they do provide an option for on-site energy generation. Waste Management will provide ancillary equipment, such as sorting, to create a full waste-to-energy system, Vaillancourt said.