Kore Infrastructure offers the world a means to solve several major issues, including the energy crisis, decarbonization and waste management.
Since its launch in 2008, the company has perfected its approach to transforming waste into energy and has gained recognition for its novel technology from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
In 2021, Kore opened its first fully permitted commercial facility and last year the company began producing renewable hydrogen.
We had a chat with Steve Wirtel, Executive Vice President of Kore Infrastructure, to better understand what the company’s solution involves and what it will take for it to scale.
Waste-to-energy is uniquely positioned to solve a number of problems all at once, including the decarbonization of construction and meeting energy needs. Can you expand on how Kore Infrastructure can tackle these issues?
Approximately, 140 million tons of waste is buried in landfills each year in the US, and much of the rest is incinerated. In landfills, this waste decomposes into methane, some of which can escape into the atmosphere, making landfills one of the largest sources of greenhouse gasses.
Kore sits at the nexus between waste and energy to turn a throwaway economy into a circular one by converting today’s waste into tomorrow’s clean energy. Our modular technology has accomplished something that has never been done before at scale: producing 100% renewable energy from organic waste using a closed-loop process. We produce renewable UltraGreen Hydrogen™, renewable natural gas (RNG), and biocarbon, which has many different use-cases, including the decarbonization of cement manufacturing.
The solid biocarbon by-product has very unique properties and value. Biocarbon is primarily elemental carbon that has been produced in such a way that the carbon is recalcitrant – it will not return to the atmosphere as CO2 or CH4 for over 100 years. Hence, biocarbon sequesters carbon in the soil in a measurable way, making the entire process carbon-negative.
Biocarbon can also substitute for fossil coal in difficult to decarbonize industries like cement and steel manufacturing, allowing these industries to switch to renewable energy and leave coal in the ground.
Kore Infrastructure claims to produce 100% renewable energy from organic waste – can you please tell us a little bit more about the process?
Kore’s proprietary pyrolysis technology heats organic waste to temperatures in excess of 1,000ºF in a zero-oxygen environment. This causes volatile solids to convert to an energy-dense biogas that can be upcycled into carbon-negative energy such as renewable natural gas and vehicle-grade hydrogen, leaving behind an energy-rich solid carbon co-product called biocarbon.
The energy outputs have the potential to decarbonize many sectors of the economy including heavy-duty transportation, manufacturing, agriculture, data centers, and food processing, among others. On the other hand, biocarbon can be used as a soil amendment to permanently sequester carbon in the ground, or used as a coal substitute to replace fossil coal.
The base Kore process includes: feedstock receiving, preparation, and conveyance; pyrolyzer; biogas cleanup and cooling; biogas compression and storage; and biochar cooling conveyance and storage. For upgrading to renewable hydrogen we add: biogas cracking, water gas shift, pressure swing adsorption, hydrogen compression and storage. For upgrading to renewable natural gas (RNG) we add biogas cracking, methanation (catalytic or biological), and RNG compressions and storage.
What role do you believe policy has to play in promoting the use of green hydrogen and biocarbon in cement production? What changes need to be made by legislators?
Policy is essential to decarbonizing cement manufacturing. Government initiatives in California are moving in the right direction. As the second largest cement producing state, California has introduced legislation (SB 596) which directs the California Air Resource Board to implement measures to require all cement manufactured in California to reach net zero emissions by 2045. This gives biocarbon and green hydrogen a leg-up in the cement manufacturing industry.
Legislators need to recognize that the technology exists to begin decarbonizing cement manufacturing and to clear a pathway to implement these technologies, including streamlining and accelerating the permitting process.
Do you think the cement industry can reach net-zero GHG emissions in the US and if so, how?
There are principally two types of GHG emissions created during cement manufacturing: combustion emissions and process (calcination) emissions. Kore can address combustion emissions by producing biocarbon and green hydrogen so cement manufacturers can switch from fossil fuels to carbon neutral fuels.
Eliminating process emissions requires rethinking and innovating the cement manufacturing process. Fortunately, policies are encouraging companies to develop new ways to manufacture cement. New companies are now lining up with ideas to eliminate process emissions in cement manufacturing.
With Kore’s fuel switching technology and cement manufacturing process innovations being developed by others, the cement industry will soon be able to reach net zero emissions.
Turning waste into energy sounds like a very attractive concept. What do you believe is currently in the way of scaling this technology?
There are many factors that must fall into place to scale renewable energy technology. Kore is fortunate to have early adopter commercial clients and investors that realize that taking calculated risks to scale renewable energy innovation is what must happen to solve the climate crisis.
Evaluating risk is everything to investment partners and clients in energy and infrastructure. The Kore solution is rapidly deployable, small footprint, modular, and capital-light, which de-risks technology performance to potential clients and capital providers. Kore systems are designed to be co-located at landfills, ports, airports, transit sites, the list goes on. This creates a powerful circular economy solution that aligns profit and planet for clients who can simply add additional Kore modules to smart-scale.
What is in the pipeline for Kore Infrastructure?
We have developed a pipeline that is wide and deep. Because Kore is a platform technology that can process many types of waste to produce multiple end products, we have attracted attention from a diverse group of prospects. From the feedstock supply side, our pipeline includes: Environmental Service companies, Agricultural operations, Forest managers, Lumber companies, Municipalities, Biomass Power Plant operators, Composting operations, Wood Pellet manufacturers, and Anaerobic Digester operators.
From the energy products offtake side, our pipeline includes: Oil & Gas companies, Hydrogen Refueling Station operators, Port operations, Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle manufacturers, Utilities, and Data Centers. From the biocarbon offtake side, our pipeline includes: Cement Manufacturers, Concrete producers, Agricultural operations, Soil Amendment suppliers, Graphene producers, and Voluntary Carbon Offset markets.
And we have clients that are interested in both waste management and renewable energy production including: Project Developers, Food & Beverage companies, Universities, Hospitals, and Native American Tribes.
One project worth spotlighting is our Forest Biomass to Carbon Negative Biofuels project. The California Department of Conservation has given Kore a grant to develop this project to extract dead, dying, and diseased trees from the Sierra Nevada Forest and convert the biomass into carbon negative hydrogen to decarbonize California transportation.
Kore partnered with the Tule River Tribe of California who will own and operate the facility and provide feedstock from their active forest management practices on their trust land in the Sierra Nevada Forest. The magnitude of California wildfires has driven two major insurance companies out of the state (State Farm and Allstate). This project is the first step towards reducing wildfire risk for all Californians.