Sometimes, one person’s trash is another person’s startup

A startup called Sierra Energy, which converts garbage into renewable energy, raised $33m.

July 30, 2019

Sierra Energy, a company that transforms trash into renewable energy, raised $33m to expand its gasification program.

So, how exactly does it turn trash into treasure?

Sierra creates a chemical reaction between the carbon found in trash and pure, injected oxygen in a 4,000-degree modified blast furnace (normally used to make steel). 

The scorchingly high temps inside the blast-zone incinerate all types of trash — even medical and hazardous wastes that are otherwise a pain in the furnace to eliminate — and the machine creates carbon monoxide and hydrogen as byproducts.

The company, which is headquartered in Davis, California, started as a grad school project in 2002 and received several grants in recent years to keep the furnace burning. 

But now, big investors are starting to feel the heat

This recent $33m investment came from Breakthrough Energy Ventures, the energy fund led by Bill Gates that also counts Jeff Bezos, Marc Benioff and Richard Branson as investors.

Investors are fired up about the project because it solves 2 problems at once: In addition to creating a more sustainable alternative to landfills, Sierra also produces valuable “syngas” (synthesis gas), which can be used to create electricity, hydrogen, diesel, and ammonia.

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