California trash-to-hydrogen plant promises dirt-cheap, super-green H2

Monday, June 1st, 2020

Lancaster, California will be home to a “greener than green” trash-to-hydrogen production plant three times the size of any other green H2 facility:

SGH2 says its process is the cleanest of all on the market, while matching the price of the cheapest producers — and pulling tens of thousands of tons of garbage out of landfills.


According to a recent memorandum of understanding, the city of Lancaster will host and co-own the SGH2 Lancaster plant, which will be capable of producing up to 11,000 kg of H2 per day, or 3.8 million kg per year, while processing up to 42,000 tons of recycled waste per year. Garbage to clean fuel, with a US$2.1 to $3.2 million saving on landfill costs per year as a sweetener.


The process, developed by SGH2′s parent company Solena, uses high-temperature plasma torches putting out temperatures between 3,500 and 4,000 °C (6,332 to 7,232 °F). This ionic heat, with oxygen-enriched gas fed in, catalyzes a “complete molecular dissociation of all hydrocarbons” in whatever fuel you’ve fed in, and as it rises and begins to cool, it forms “a very high quality, hydrogen-rich bio-syngas free of tar, soot and heavy metals.”

The process accepts a wide variety of waste sources, including paper, old tires, textiles, and notably plastics, which it can handle very efficiently without toxic by-products. The bio-syngas exits the top of a plenum chamber, and is sent to a cooling chamber, followed by a pair of acid scrubbers to remove particulate matter.

A centrifugal compressor further cleans the gas stream, leaving a mixture of hydrogen, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. This is run through a water-gas shift reactor that adds water vapor and converts the carbon monoxide to carbon dioxide and more hydrogen gas. The two are separated, neatly capturing all the CO2 as hydrogen comes out the other end.

A Berkeley Lab lifecycle carbon analysis concluded, says SGH2, that each ton of hydrogen produced by this process reduces emissions by between 23 and 31 tons of CO2 equivalent — presumably counting emissions that would be created if the garbage was burned instead of converted into hydrogen. That would be between 13–19 tons more carbon dioxide avoided than any other green hydrogen production process.

What’s more, while electrolysis requires some 62 kWh of energy to produce one kilogram of hydrogen, the Solena process is energy-positive, generating 1.8 kWh per kg of hydrogen, meaning the plant generates its own electricity and doesn’t require external power input.

The 5-acre facility, in a heavy industrial zone of Lancaster, will employ 35 people full-time and create some 600 jobs in construction. SGH2 is hoping to break ground in Q1 2021 and achieve full operational status by 2023. The company is in negotiations with “California’s largest owners and operators of hydrogen refueling stations” to buy the plant’s entire output for a 10-year period.


  1. Bob Sykes says:

    The earliest attempt to utilize biogas occurred in the late 1800′s in England, where methane/carbon dioxide from sewage fermentation was used to light street lamps.

    We’ve been trying to use wastes to generate energy for over 100 years now. The attempts always fail for economic reasons. First, there is the collection costs. Wastes are distributed dilutely in cities and towns and need some sort of collection system: sewers, trash trucks, … Second the conversion of organic waste to some usable product like methane or hydrogen is always an expensive operation.

    Methane is produced abundantly at nearly every sewage treatment plant, but the cost of cleaning it (greases, sulfides, nitrogen, carbon dioxide) and the cost of the gas burners is so great that methane is always burned off. It is always cheaper to buy natural gas from a distributor and use that as fuel at the sewage treatment plant than to use the methane produced on site.

    There are additional issues with hydrogen from waste. Aside from the spectacularly expensive conversion process, there are storage and transportation issues. Pressurized hydrogen reacts with steel, causing embrittlement. Because of this, transport over any distant is unsafe, and hydrogen is almost always used where it is made.

    The cheapest and most reliable way to get energy from waste is simply to burn it. That is true of both trash and sewage treatment sludges. The downside of trash burning, beside its cost, is that most municipal trashes produce some dioxines. That problem was enough to shut down nearly all the municipal trash burning plants build during the 1970′s.

    The City of Lancaster has just shot itself in the head. The capital and operating costs of that plant will require heavy subsidies, which will divert funds from other municipal services.

  2. Albion says:

    One of the best enviro-friendly press-releases I’ve seen in a long time.

  3. Ezra says:

    Heard that many times. Promises.

  4. Dan Kurt says:

    Bob Sykes said, “The cheapest and most reliable way to get energy from waste is simply to burn it.”

    There is another way. A Physical Chemist from Columbia circa 1940 published a method of REDUCTION rather than oxidation to process waste. The method is analogous to a blast furnace where the iron ore is substituted by the waste. Coke, lime stone and waste are reacted together in a continuous process. The Columbia professor was Jewish and blinded by a lab experiment early in his career. His papers on the topic could be tracked down in a top university library if one could discover his name. I heard of him and the process from one of my chemistry professors in the 1960s. I was never interested in pursuing the concept at the time despite my having access to a marvelous university library system.

  5. Gavin Longmuir says:

    “This ionic heat, with oxygen-enriched gas fed in, catalyzes a “complete molecular dissociation of all hydrocarbons” in whatever fuel you’ve fed in, and as it rises and begins to cool, it forms “a very high quality, hydrogen-rich bio-syngas free of tar, soot and heavy metals.”

    “Ionic heat”? Looks like the promoters forgot to say “Nano Ionic Heat”. They should throw that in when they go to the California Assembly for their required operating subsidies.

    Conservation of Mass — the heavy metals are not destroyed by “Ionic Heat”; they will end up somewhere in the system, and disposing of them in an over-regulated environment like CA may be expensive.

    Talking about expense – “oxygen-enriched gas” will not be cheap either. The process may be technically feasible and work in the lab, but the economics could be challenging. Is there a large currently-unsatisfied potential market for hydrogen in Lancaster? If not, the hydrogen may have very low value.

    Bob Sykes put his finger on probably the biggest under-estimated cost — the cost providing a collection & sorting system to prepare a suitable garbage stream which will not mess up the internals of this expensive plant.

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