Davis startup seeks to 'close the loop' with innovative waste to energy process

Davis company CleanWorld sees the future of clean energy with its cutting edge anaerobic digestion process.

Dr. Ruihong Zhang of UC Davis pioneered a new approach to anaerobic digestion, which uses bacteria to break down waste and convert it into biogas.

"I realized there's a need for an efficient digestion system to handle and process solid waste," Zhang explained.

Startup CleanWorld commercialized her technology and opened three biodigesters in the area.

The one located at the site of the former UC Davis landfill is the largest one of its kind on a college campus. It uses organic waste, like cow manure, to power the campus. You can also feed it food, like the Sacramento biodigester that takes leftovers from all over the city and turns it into fuel, which powers trucks that run on compressed natural gas.

"It's very exciting because she's doing something that no one has done before," CleanWorld CEO Michele Wong said.

Wong said Zhang's patented technology is a game changer because of its capability to take solid waste and produce clean energy faster and more consistently than other digesters.

"It gave us the ability to create a smaller system that could be distributed and located at the source of waste," Wong explained.

The leap from R&D to commercialization was fast tracked with the help of Synergex, a software development firm that invested millions into the startup. Synergex serves as a support system, even housing CleanWorld at their Gold River headquarters.

"We've been able to take the experience we've applied in computer industry and get it done in a much faster and efficient time," Synergex President Bill Mooney said.

CleanWorld had to prove Zhang's technology worked by owning and operating the first three biodigesters in just a couple of years. Now, it has 11 other projects across the country in development. It's a good start, they say, to closing the loop.

"One day we could create a digester that could work in a single home," Wong said.


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