Trash Into Fuel: How ENTRADE X Is Making Renewable Energy Accessible

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Climate change is already upon us, leading to extreme weather patterns, environmental migration, and many other major consequences worldwide. So it’s bittersweet to realize that today, as you read this, we have the technology to make a difference. What’s stopping us?

Images via ENTRADE X

Admittedly that’s an entire article of its own — from politics to power and money, there are a lot of reasons why the world can be reluctant to turn towards renewables — but one important aspect could be simply a lack of access for developing countries and regions to renewable and decentralized energy. While in regions such as Europe or North America it may be more of an ideological or financial choice to use clean energy, in parts of Asia and Africa it’s not even an option.

Julien Uhilg, CEO of ENTRADE X

Julien Uhlig, CEO of ENTRADE X, is working to change this. Inspired by a trip to Ethiopia where he helped build a renewable energy microgrid for a small village, Julien is passionate about the importance of access to clean, decentralized energy systems. He’s put this passion into action with the ENTRADE Combined Heat and Power System that can be installed in only a few weeks and provide several megawatts of energy while completely off the grid. These portable, mini-power plants transform organic and inorganic waste into energy that can be harnessed 24/7.

The ENTRADE X team has been working in the technology field for over 10 years, including for arensis Inc., a company born out of the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI). It was one of the fastest growing decentralized energy providers in the world, with more than 200 units spread throughout 11 countries. We speak with CEO Julien Uhilg about ENTRADE’s state of the art technology and how they are transforming renewable energy access.

What was the inspiration behind the conception of ENTRADE?

Ten years ago, working in Ethiopia with the German Ministry of Economics and Energy, I witnessed the desperate need for energy access in the region first hand and have had the goal to build a fully renewable energy microgrid that would power a small village ever since. Back then, the technology was not available — power plants were expensive, big and tough to manage. Today, all of this has changed. ENTRADE technology combines state-of-the-art soft and hardware automation plus solar and storage with the ability to bring reliable energy to areas most in need all over the world.

ENTRADE technology generates electricity from renewable sources such as wood, wind, and waste. Can you explain a bit of that process and the technology that sets the company apart?

Our waste-to-energy solutions are based on the most advanced biomass gasification technology on the market. The EX offers a brand new reactor design that is able to handle a lot more difficult waste fuels than other systems in the market. It can be packaged in containers and or placed right next to the energy off-taker. When stacked together, Entrade X Combined Heat and Power (CHP) systems can supply several megawatt-hours of electricity completely off-grid while creating local jobs and empowering communities.

The two-stage conversion process begins by first producing the syngas in a thermal reactor, then feeding it into an internal combustion engine driving the electrical generator. Core benefits compared to a boiler-to-steam turbine, for example, are very high efficiency (even at a small scale) and without the smell or particle emissions that you would have from a direct combustion.

Why are you personally passionate about the generation of renewable energy?

Our world will not survive without it. With all of the technological advancements here today, it amazes me that greenhouse gas-emitting toxic natural resources are still being used and landfills continue to grow. We can turn this waste into energy and have the technology to not only provide electricity to those currently without energy access but also create jobs, build economies and improve people’s lives. If you look at all the waste streams in the world, we are simply as a society incredibly inefficient. We hope to make a contribution to a more sustainable future that is not only 100% renewable but also produces zero waste.

What kind of wastes can you turn into fuels? Are some easier or better than others?

Since 2006, ENTRADE Labs — previously as agnion energy — has been exploring ways to convert waste-streams into a natural gas replacement, a so-called syn-gas. We’ve tested more than 300 organic and inorganic waste materials. Our primary source of fuel is biowaste in the form of wood chips and wood pellets, while now we are working on plastic and tough to convert resources, like straw and elephant grass, for example. Agriculture waste is also a leading source of local fuel in all parts of the world. The waste streams are very localized which is a challenge for our research — palm oil waste in South East Asia or sugar cane waste in Brazil are totally different and tough to ship — so we have to set up pilots close to the waste to ensure that the conversion is clean and we don’t create more problems than we solve.

ENTRADE is focused on becoming the leading provider of decentralized energy in sub-Saharan Africa. Why is this so important?

The need for decentralized energy in Sub-Saharan Africa has been our vision from the beginning. As governments prioritize energy access to industrial and urban centers in order to stimulate economies, this part of the world might not be connected for decades to come, forcing more and more people to move to urban centers in search of a higher quality of life. Because regions in warmer climate zones, such as Sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia and parts of the Americas, are hardest hit from the effects of climate change, the demand for electricity will rise drastically — mainly driven by the need for energy-intensive cooling and air conditioning. Our technology works best on Islands and rural areas that are tough to reach. We are directly competing with expensive electricity from Diesel Generators.

What is your timeline for the next five years? How will ENTRADE continue to expand access to renewable energy?

In addition to providing a carbon-neutral natural gas alternative to customers in industrial countries, we foresee a dramatic need for off-grid resources in developing countries, primarily rural areas, islands, and military installations. All vital infrastructure operations that are at risk of staying operational following hurricanes, natural disasters or hacker attacks are in need of decentralized energy systems. Back up energy in these situations has typically been diesel, which can cost as much as $1kWh and be priced up to 10x higher than what you would find in parts of the US. Sadly, these this high diesel pricing happens during the direst of situations and often in lower income areas.

We are working to change this and provide clean, renewable energy access to all parts of the world. I recently founded a new entity, ENTRADE IO, for off-grid project financing and the sale of renewable energy in remote rural areas. We’ve also partnered with Schneider Electric to develop smart microgrid systems with mobile IoT applications, remote operations through augmented reality (AR), and a blockchain platform to raise funds outside of the US for the purpose of financing projects in areas of greatest need, primarily Asia and Africa. Decentralized energy is the future and we are at the forefront of making a global impact.

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Erika Clugston

Erika is a writer and artist based in Berlin. She is passionate about sharing stories of climate change and cleantech initiatives worldwide. Whether it’s transforming the fashion, food, or engineering industries, there’s an opportunity and responsibility for us all to do better. In addition to contributing to CleanTechnica, Erika is the Web and Social Media Editor at LOLA Magazine and writes regularly about art and culture.

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