At 1,500-1,800 degrees Fahrenheit, wood chips don’t stand a chance, but under the right conditions, those chips can be efficiently turned into clean, energy-rich syngas. That’s what Vancouver, B.C.-based Nexterra Energy does with its gasification technology, for which it just raised C$3.8 million ($3.6 million) in a fourth round funding, the startup said yesterday. The round was led by return investor ARC Financial Corp., which has invested C$20 million in gasification venture to date.
Nexterra’s technology uses wood chips or other solid fuels to create relatively clean syngas, which can then be burned in a traditional gas power generation system. The feedstock is put through a tightly controlled series of steps including drying, pyrolysis, gasification and reduction, and in the end, the incombustible and dirty ash is removed and the hydrocarbon-rich syngas is piped away. The company is targeting plant-scale operations in the forest products, institutional, power generation and pulp and paper manufacturing sectors.
Gasification technology is key to the hopes of so-called “clean coal” advocates. Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) plants turn coal into syngas, removing some of the polluting impurities before combustion. The technology needs more commercial-scale testing to prove its economic and environmental feasibility. There are only two IGCC plants in operation in the U.S., and financiers and regulators are hesitant to green-light new coal-fired power plants.
Other startups are trying to apply gasification technology to their clean energy endeavors. Plasco Energy, a fellow Canadian cleantech company, uses “plasmagasification,” where a gasified garbage stream is exposed to an electrical arc — the so-called “plasma torch.” Gasification is also the key to GM-backed Coskata’s ability to turn any carbon-based feedstock into syngas, which its proprietary microbes metabolize into ethanol.
Graphics courtesy of Nexterra.