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Summary:

Trash king Waste Management has joined a $22 million investment in startup Agilyx, which has technology to turn plastic otherwise headed for the landfill into a synthetic crude oil. The garbage and recycling company has one of the more interesting investing strategies out there.

PlasticRecycling_India

Here’s the latest of Waste Management’s investments into turning its trash into treasure. The trash king said Thursday it had joined in a $22 million investment in startup Agilyx, which has developed technology that can turn plastic otherwise headed for the landfill, into a synthetic crude oil.

The Series B investment was led by Kleiner Perkins and joined by new investor, French oil giant Total, as well as previous investors Chrysalix Energy, Saffron Hill Ventures and Reference Capita. Agylix says it’s ready to scale up its patented technology, which has already churned out about 120,000 gallons of a crude oil-like substance from about 1 million pounds of shredded plastic at a Portland, Ore. pilot plant.

A 1,000-pound bag can yield about a gallon of the crude oil substitute, and Agylix says its system can process about 10 tons of plastic into about 2,400 gallons, or 60 barrels, per day. It uses an “anaerobic thermal reclamation process” — that is, heat in the absence of oxygen — to turn the plastic into a gas, which is then condensed into the crude oil product

That product, in turn, can be fed into existing refineries for conversion into a variety of fuels and products, the company says. That’s different from most biofuel startups, which seek to make liquids as close to fuel-ready as possible, though Texas startup KiOR is also working on creating bio-crude from plant waste like wood chips and straw.

Waste Management has been making a ton of green investments, with interests ranging from organic soil and compost makers to solar-powered trash compactors. But trash-to-energy and trash-to-chemicals technologies have been its primary focus, with investments in waste-to-ethanol startup Enerkem, and fermentation-based biofuel startup Terrabon,

In February, Waste Management announced a partnership with Genomatica, a San Diego, Calif.-based startup with a platform to create genetically modified organisms to turn biogas into a variety of industrial chemicals. That’s a smaller market than the holy grail of fuel production, but it can be easier to tackle for startups, if they can produce replacements for the often fossil fuel-derived chemicals at a high enough quality and low enough price.

Notably, Agilyx says it turns shredded plastic into a gas before condensing it into crude oil. It’s not clear, however, whether the startup’s gas is the same as the syngas that Genomatica CTO Mark Burk works with. I wonder if Genomatica can help Agylix build new bugs to make different chemicals out of its product, via the help of their common big corporate brothers?

Image courtesy of World Resource Institute via Creative Commons license.

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  1. Brian Leyde Friday, April 1, 2011

    The actual numbers in the link state that each 1000 lb bag can be processed into about 100 gallons of crude. This is more in line with what one would expect and the numbers in the rest of your article.

  2. Brian Leyde Friday, April 1, 2011

    Sorry to comment again but they will not be intentionally making syngas (a mixture of CO and H2). It seems more like they are running a thermal depolymerization type system in which the linked hydrocarbons will simply be broken down into smaller unlinked hydrocarbons. This is done at a high enough temperature that the products are vapors and must be condensed before packaging and shipment. However this does raise the interesting possibility of fractionally condensing the products as would be done in a refinery and skipping some of the crude processing steps.

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