Waste Management Bets on German Trash Tech With Agnion

We like trash technology — tech that can turn trash into something useful — and clearly, garbage giant Waste Management (s wm) does, too. The serial corporate investor just added another one to its portfolio: Agnion Energy out of Germany.

Waste Management says it has made a “strategic investment” in Agnion, a bit of jargon that means Waste Management thinks one day it could use Agnion’s biomass-to-synthesis gas process to find a second life for the trash it collects. The Houston company isn’t divulging the size of the investment.

What does Agnion have to offer? It has invented its own gasification technology using something called the heatpipe-reformer design. A heatpipe is a bit of equipment that apparently can transfer heat efficiently into the gasification chamber to eviscerate biomass in a high temperature and turn it into syngas. Syngas, rich in hydrogen and carbon monoxide, can run combined heat and power generation equipment, or can be further processed to become a natural gas substitute or a liquid transportation fuel.

Syngas is quite popular among biofuel and chemical producers. Genomatica, which also counts Waste Management as an investor, is developing organisms that will consume syngas instead of sugar – sugar is the more expensive feedstock Genomatica currently uses – and turn the syngas into chemicals. Fulcrum BioEnergy has signed a 15-year deal to buy trash from Waste Management and use it for producing syngas and then fuel.

Agnion’s technology can produce syngas at a smaller scale that is suitable for locations such as universities, factories, hotels and hospitals, the company said. Founded in 2007, the company is currently building its first commercial gasification plant in Grassau, Germany. Agnion announced the plant construction last December, and Germany’s Ministry of the Environment is kicking in €850,000 ($1.21 million USD) to help fund the project. The startup also has received undisclosed investments from Kleiner Perkins, Munich Venture Partners and Wellington Partners.

Waste Management has been a keen investor in companies that can make use of garbage for a variety of products. Its portfolio include Enerkem, S4 Energy Solutions, Terrabon and Agilyx (here is our list of more Waste Management’s cleantech investments).

Agilyx is another more recent investment. The company, which turns plastic that would otherwise head for the landfill into synthetic crude oil, said in March it had raised $22 million from Waste Management and investors such as Kleiner Perkins and Total (the French oil and gas giant) (s tot).

Photo courtesy of Nancy Qian via Flickr