Not content to sit on its laurels as the largest trash collection company in the country, Waste Management is innovating in one of the unsexiest–but most important–sectors of the economy: garbage. What might look like trash is actually just natural gas in solid form–and because Waste Management owns a lot of trash, it owns a lot of natural gas. The company is investing heavily in companies that can help it go from a trash company to a trash-and-energy company.
This week, Waste Management announced that it is investing in Agnion Energy, a company that turns trash (or “solid biomass feedstock”) into synthetic gas that can be used in heating. The idea to make gas from trash isn’t new (Waste Management already owns 111 landfill-based gas plants). But Agnion has developed a small-scale device that allows users to perform on-site gasification for a low upfront cost. In practical terms, this means that hospitals, shopping malls, and every other building or institution that collects large amounts of waste–like Waste Management–can get high-quality gas out of straight-up garbage.
Waste Management isn’t betting only on Agnion. The company has also invested in startups like Enerkem, which turns trash into transportation fuel; and Agilyx, a company that is attempting to turn plastics into crude oil. If any of these solutions pan out, Waste Management will have the ability to turn trash to power–and be in the enviable position of having already cornered the market on garbage.