The path to zero waste.
Green Business Newsmaker | Mike Hart
Premium content from Sacramento Business Journal by Bob Schmidt , Correspondent
Date: Friday, February 10, 2012, 3:00am PST
Throwing waste into a hole in the ground in a landfill and covering it with dirt is wasteful, Mike Hart says. Converting waste into energy is smarter.
Hart, president of Sierra Energy Corp., has a machine that will do that.
Sierra Energy’s FastOx Gasifier is a derivative of the blast furnace. It uses heat, steam and oxygen to turn trash into a gas that can be refined into transportation fuel.
“That’s a pretty exciting proposition,” Hart said, “because you can get rid of landfills, which are a toxic nightmare because of the stuff that leaches into our water tables and the greenhouse gasses that go up. Every ton of trash thrown into a landfill creates one ton of greenhouse gas going into the atmosphere. You can get rid of that with this technology.
“Landfill operators are using valuable land for garbage. What happens if the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) starts charging a carbon tax for those greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere? The landfill business is going to start looking not so attractive.
“What we’re suggesting is that an operator could get one of our gasifiers and not only turn every ton of waste that comes in into clean fuel and clean electricity, but they can take the trash already in the ground, dig it up and turn it into clean energy.
“Sierra Energy is a local company, and our gasifier, capable of converting five tons of trash a day into energy, is currently being demonstrated at the Department of Defense-funded Renewable Energy Testing Center at McClellan Park.”
Where did the idea for the Sierra Energy gasifier come from?
I’ve been a judge at the annual Big Bang Competition that’s run at UC Davis, and the gasifier was one of the projects that came through the competition. One of the people involved with the plan came out of UC Davis, and I ended up acquiring the technology. The Big Bang Competition is part of the UC Davis Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. We built our first gasifier in 2009, built a bigger one in 2010, and will begin shipping our first commercial products to market this year and raising funds to build a new facility to be based in Sacramento.
What prompted your interest in the gasifier?
I was interested in alternative energy even when I was growing up. I wrote a term paper my senior year in high school about solving the energy crisis. I had all these great ideas, including gasification. It took me 30 years to get around to doing something about it. I always hated waste. When I saw something left over, I always wanted to figure out what to do with it.
That summarizes my business life. I love finding junk and finding a use for it, stuff that somebody else doesn’t see value in. Trash is the ultimate commodity. There used to be a big landfill my friends and I used to go to, and we’d find all kinds of great stuff. I would wonder how much people would pay for the stuff we’d find, and I found out that people were paying to get rid of it.
Eventually I figured out that there was a real opportunity there.
Who is He?
President, Sierra Energy Corp.
• Age: 49
• Born in Cupertino. He can trace his ancestry to pioneers who traveled with the Donner Party. Lives in Davis with wife, Angie, and their five children, one each in college, high school, junior high school, elementary school and kindergarten.
• Education: B.A., political science, University of California Davis, and Stanford Advanced Management Program.
His favorite things
• Book: “The Goal,” by Dr. Eliyahu Goldratt
• Restaurant: The Grad, in Davis
• Vacation spot: Lake Tahoe, and driving around the country in our RV
• Music: Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly
• Hobbies: Hiking, skiing. I plan to learn to fly an ultra light this year.
• Hero: The man in the arena, the entrepreneur who makes things happen.
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