Minneapolis startup ready for pilot projects using fuel made from organic waste

A Minneapolis cleantech startup is readying its innovation for possible pilot projects with partner companies by year’s end. The technology is a win-win-win in that it uses organic waste that otherwise would be landfilled, reduces fossil fuel use, and strives to make the technology cost-effective. I’ll give you a look at what’s going on with enVerde, later in the newsletter.

🌞 SOLAR: Teachers intend to use the rooftop solar panels being installed at five Ann Arbor, Michigan, schools as a learning tool when students return to class, reports MLive. Students will be able to monitor the power generation and how it is influenced by weather in real time with a kiosk at the school or an app.

🎉 PRODUCT LAUNCH: Olathe, Kansas-based Garmin updated some of its fitness tracking watches with solar charging capabilities. It touts “unlimited battery life” with sufficient solar exposure.

***SPONSORED LINK: The Cleanie Awards — the #1 awards program in clean technology — is now accepting applications! Submit to win, or contact us with any questions. Applications close July 30.***

🌊 WATER: A pilot project using sensors to test Lake Erie’s health is taking place through a partnership between the Cleveland Water Alliance, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, and LimnoTech, reports Water Finance & Management. The partners want to show how inexpensive sensor technology in common products such as dishwashers and cell phones can monitor water quality to improve the lake’s health.

 ✈ AVIATION: The Federal Aviation Administration awarded Missouri University of Science and Technology an $847,000 grant to find a cheaper and faster way to calibrate airlines’ jet fuel emission measuring systems.

💰 FUNDING: Electric truck startup Rivian has raised $2.5 billion in its latest investment round. The company, which is based in Plymouth, Michigan, and repurposing a manufacturing facility in Normal, Illinois, is focused on launching two passenger trucks and an Amazon vehicle in 2021.

💻 VIRTUAL EVENTS:

  • The Women in Tech Summit series begins tomorrow and will offer six sessions through the end of July.

  • Minnesota’s BETA will hold its Summer 2020 Showcase on Wednesday, which it dubs a “science fair for startups.”

Now, more on enVerde.

The founders believe it’s important to work on a waste-to-energy solution that has staying power, as opposed to the plethora of technologies that garner a flurry of activity but fizzle out before commercialization. Achieving that requires keeping an eye on two key factors, said CEO and Founder Dave Goebel. “We’re trying to do something that combines environmental performance with long-term economic viability… to make sure it's profitable and lasts a long time — that it’s not just a labor of the day but really embedded in global society,” he said.

PROBLEM: The EPA estimates that the average American generates 4.5 pounds of waste each day and most of it gets sent to landfill. Nearly one-third is organic material such as yard waste and food scraps. “The food waste going to landfill is biodegrade to a certain extent, but when it degrades it turns to gases, like methane, that create more greenhouse challenges than we realize,” Goebel said.

THE TECHNOLOGY: The waste-to-clean energy technology was born at the University of Minnesota. It uses catalysts, which facilitate chemical reactions, to convert carbon-based materials to an energy source called synthetic gas or “syngas.” The gas can be used in applications that usually use fossil fuels, and it also can be used as a building block for other sustainable fuels. “Our syngas can be upgraded to methanol, and then the methanol can be used in the chemical marketplace as a green feedstock… And methanol can be used as a building block for another gas called dimethyl ether, DME, which can be used in diesel applications” and is very clean burning without particulates, Goebel said.

“We think that we're really on the cusp right now. There's going to be a[n industry] transition going from diesel to this DME,” Goebel said.

Hydrogen also can be pulled from syngas as a power source for fuel cells.

THE IMPACT: enVerde’s technology economically reduces landfilled waste while also reducing fossil fuel use and emissions. Customers could significantly reduce their energy costs by using the fuel they generate from breaking down their own organic waste. The byproduct from performing the chemical reactions also is beneficial: It creates a lot of heat that can be harvested as another energy source.

  • The syngas can be used on demand or compressed and stored in tanks.

  • The technology is very scalable so it could be portable for smaller customers or much larger and stationary for utility customers. It could be used in a variety of commercial and industrial applications that produce organic waste including farming, food manufacturing, and consumer packaging manufacturing.

  • The technology has the potential to make supply chains more efficient because users would convert their waste to energy instead of shipping it for disposal, or portable technology units could be put on a truck and travel to where waste streams are located.

  • Other syngas producers might only be able to convert about 50% of the feedstock material to a usable product, but enVerde is able to convert upwards of 90%, Goebel said.

KEY CHALLENGE: Syngas’ energy density is about half that of natural gas, and the energy density of DME is about half that of diesel fuel, so customers would need to use twice as much of the cleaner fuels to get the same output. “If we have to use twice as much dimethyl ether, then we have to make sure our dimethyl ether costs at least half the amount for the same volume as diesel fuel. And it does. That's one reason we chose this technology: We knew the economics would work out,” Goebel said.

WHAT’S NEXT: enVerde is focused on getting a demonstration plant built this year so partners can see the technology and better understand the benefits. The business plans to launch pilot projects with several partners, including engine and power generator developer Cummins. Further down the line after commercialization — perhaps up to 10 years in the future — enVerde might adapt the technology for residential applications.

Let me know which other entrepreneurs are advancing tech in the Midwest so I can include them in our coverage. Send news tips, press releases, and feedback to katie@centered.tech or connect on LinkedIn and Twitter @centereddottech.


Centered is a publication of the Energy News Network, in partnership with the Illinois Science and Energy Innovation Foundation and mHUB.