If Davis startup Sierra Energy needed validation that its renewable technology is boldly moving mankind into the future, it has received it from the Roddenberry Foundation, the philanthropic organization founded in memory of “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry.
The tiny clean-tech company was one of four companies to receive a $150,000 innovation award as part of the foundation’s inaugural competition, selected from among 600 applicants in 70 countries. The grand prize of $400,000 went to Opus 12, a Bay Area startup that is developing a process to take industrial carbon dioxide emissions and transform them into useful products.
The Sierra Energy team is working toward a future where there will be no need for landfills. Paul Gruber, the company’s vice president of external partnerships, told me they can take nearly any form of trash that has carbon in it, put it in a blast furnace, heat it to temperatures of 4000 degrees Fahrenheit and create an energy-rich synthesis-gas, or syn-gas, that can be refined into multiple uses: electricity, fertilizer, biodiesel fuel.
“By the way, it’s not incineration,” he said. “It’s not burning. It’s just a very high heat, high pressurization that we achieve, which does molecular recycling … That vaporizes the material. It just deconstructs it to its original elements really.”
The application for the Roddenberry Prize emphasized Sierra Energy’s desire to do a humanitarian project in Mexico, where it hopes to build a furnace that will serve residents living in a slum near a landfill, Gruber said. The idea came from commercial contacts that Sierra Energy has in Mexico, companies interested in investing in the idea, Gruber said.
“For the Mexico project, we’re looking at (processing) about 25 metric tons of waste,” Gruber said. “Twenty-five wet metric tons or 20 dry metric tons would produce 1 megawatt of electricity… In the U.S., that’s enough to power 1,000 homes year-round. In Mexico, where the power demand will be a lot less, particularly in a slum, we could do a lot more.”
The company currently is building a pilot plant for its furnace, which it calls a FastOx Gasifier, at the U.S. Army’s Fort Hunter Liggett in Monterey County. Read the Inside Business interview with Sierra Energy CEO Mike Hart about that project and his entrepreneurial success on Page 1D of Sunday’s Business section …
Powering up: The leaders of Sacramento’s Power Inn Alliance announced Thursday that they will begin taking entries in their inaugural business plan competition on March 31, offering up a $50,000 prize package to help the winning applicant get started in the business district.
The business alliance is taking a cue from the Downtown Sacramento Foundation and its 5-year-old “Calling All Dreamers” contest. As the March 9 Inside Business column noted, “Calling All Dreamers” started out with the idea of capitalizing one entrepreneur to open a business downtown, but more than 15 contestants had decided to start their businesses after receiving the coaching and and encouragement of small-business mentors. That contest is open for entries until 5 p.m. April 10.
Tracy Schaal, executive director of the Power Inn Alliance, said her district’s contest, called “Make Your Mark,” is focusing on finding a micro-manufacturer who wants to locate a business within its boundaries. The Power Inn district is bordered on the north by Fair Oaks Boulevard, south by Florin Road, west by 65th Expressway and on the east by Hedge Avenue.
“The space we have here is very conducive to having a retail front, but then you have manufacturing or production space behind it,” Schaal told me. “It can be any type of manufacturer. It can be a jam manufacturer. It can be a coffee roaster. If you wanted to do soy candles, you could. Or, it could be a brewer.”
Schaal said she will announce details of the incentive package on March 31, and it could include free or reduced rent, advertising and marketing support, legal assistance and other stimulants. More than 10,000 businesses, many of them industrial in nature, have operations within Power Inn’s boundaries.