Waste Management invests in gasification tech company Agnion

By Bryan Sims | May 19, 2011

Waste Management Inc. has forged a strategic investment in Delaware-based Agnion Energy Inc. to advance Agnion’s thermochemical gasification technology. Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers, Munich Venture Partners and Wellington Partners joined Waste Management in the investment.

Specifically, Agnion employs an indirect (or allothermal) gasification process that can convert solid biomass feedstock into rich hydrogen and carbon monoxide syngas ideally suited for combined heat and power applications. It can further be converted into liquids, hydrogen and methanol dimethyl ether and/or a substitute natural gas. With a pilot plant already demonstrating the viability of its process, Agnion is currently building a commercial facility in Grassau, Germany, to further validate its technology platform.

According to Tim Cesarek, managing director of Organic Growth for Waste Management, the investment in Agnion presents an opportunity for Waste Management to evolve with Agnion’s novel technology as it matures and identify North American sites where Agnion’s gasification units could be deployed.

“Our process will be to continue to learn from [Agnion’s] progress and then begin to identify where there may be fits with our customer base, where a small-scale combined heat and power facility could be utilized,” Cesarek told Biorefining Magazine. “Given this facility at this scale, it’s exceptionally capital efficient, much more so than a biomass boiler and much more energy efficient than a biomass boiler.”

Agnion’s Heatpipe-Reformer design provides a flexible, small-scale and on-site gasification technology solution, Cesarek said. Typical customers for this technology are end-users looking for solutions to their heating and electricity demands, such as schools, universities, warehouses, distribution centers, shopping malls, hotels and hospitals. Cesarek added that although Waste Management intends to initially exploit the CHP capabilities out of Agnion’s technology, plans are to potentially exploit the other saleable value-added products the technology is capable of producing.

“As the technology evolves in Germany, we know that there may be opportunity to ultimately create higher value-added products, such as the synthetic natural gas, or start to look at other types of gaseous products, or even liquids if it makes economic sense,” Cesarek said. “What we’re trying to advance here through this thermochemical approach is to capture and produce the highest carbon balance we can find. That may mean conversion into other forms of materials that have longer chain carbon molecules and, as the technology and catalysis advances, we obviously will utilize these facilities to consider those as potential venues for higher value-added products.”

The investment in Agnion broadens Waste Management’s portfolio of thermal conversion technology platforms that include Enerkem Inc., S4 Energy Solutions, Terrabon Inc. and Agilyx Inc. Additionally, the investment is expected to move Waste Management toward meeting two of its sustainability goals: to double its renewable energy production by 2020 and invest in emerging technologies for managing waste.

“We’re constantly looking for ways to maximize the material we manage,” Cesarek said. “It’s very critical to us that we bring capability to a relationship. Clearly, we’ll find situations where we can supply the feedstock and we’ll provide situations where our customers may want the end product. In this instance, the technology provider, Agnion, will be leveraging off of the upstream and the downstream that we can bring.”