Waste Management takes direct equity stake in InEnTec

By Bryan Sims | October 21, 2011

Houston-based Waste Management Inc. has exchanged its equity interest in S4 Solutions LLC, formerly a joint venture between Waste Management and Bend, Ore.-based plasma arc gasification technology company InEnTec, for an equity position solely in InEnTec.

S4 Solutions was formed by both companies in 2009 to design, build and operate a 25-ton-per-day waste gasification demonstration plant in Arlington, Ore., using InEnTec’s proprietary trademarked Plasma Enhanced Melter technology. The construction of the Arlington project was recently completed and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has issued all necessary permits to begin operation of the plant.

In addition to InEnTec, Waste Management also holds investments in Enerkem, Terrabon and Agylix. The agreement is expected to help propel Waste Management toward meeting two of its sustainability goals: to double its renewable energy production by 2020, and investing in emerging technologies for managing waste.

Waste Management’s decision to regress its investment in InEnTec from a joint venture development into an equity position, according to Joe Vaillancourt, managing director for Waste Management’s Organic Growth Group, was because it falls more consistently within the company’s other portfolio investments in technology platforms

“I think our current feelings are very consistent with our initial interest in InEnTec where InEnTec’s technology provides a processing capability in a range that a lot of the other technologies don’t,” Vaillancourt told Biorefining Magazine. “[The PEM technology] is a much higher temperature thermoconversion process. From a stoichiometry perspective, it handles a much wider range of wastes and, in particular, it really handles the most hazardous wastes, which fits very well into the suite of thermochemical technologies.”

In InEnTec’s PEM technology, waste materials are fed into a closed chamber where they are superheated to temperatures of between 10,000 and 20,000 degrees Fahrenheit using an electricity-conducting gas called plasma. The intense heat of the process rearranges the molecular structure of the waste, transforming organic carbon-based materials into an ultra-clean syngas that can then be converted to a variety of coproducts such as advanced biofuels, or industrial products like hydrogen and methanol, or used as a substitute for natural gas in heating or electricity generation. In a secondary stage of the process, inorganic noncarbon-based materials are converted into vitrified ash, a glass-like substance that can be marketed to the construction industry as aggregate for use in blocks, brick, gravel and paper.

“I think what we’ve come to sort of learn is that we’re better off letting the technical experts focus on their craft and having us provide monies through equity positions,” Vaillancourt said. “But, more importantly, what we can do for these companies is provide more strategic assets that help their development happen quicker.”

Separate to its demonstration project venture with Waste Management, InEnTec has contracted with Fulcrum Bioenergy Inc. to provide its PEM technology for conversion of MSW into 10.5 MMgy of cellulosic ethanol at Fulcrum’s proposed Sierra BioFuels plant to be located near Reno, Nev. According to a Sept. 22 regulatory filing through the Securities and Exchange Commission, Fulcrum said the plant will process about 3,700 tons of MSW per week sourced from two municipal landfills near Reno and produce about 70 gallons of ethanol per ton of MSW. Fulcrum, which applied for DOE funding to cover a portion of the $180 million project, secured a 15-year feedstock agreement with Waste Management for waste feedstock, and contracted with Tenaska BioFuels LLC for future offtake of ethanol. The plant is slated to break ground at the end of this year, according to the SEC filing.