The majority of waste created on the industrial level ends up in the landfill. That waste not only comes with an environmental cost, but waste management fees quickly add up for companies.
Enter EnMass Energy, a Durham-based startup that has created a platform for waste producers to connect with energy project managers to buy their waste and to see data analytics throughout the waste-to-energy supply chain.
In the early 2010s, company founder Andrew Joiner researched renewable energy policy for the United Nations and then for the Obama Administration. After becoming “jaded with the policy world,” Joiner founded EnMass Energy in 2015 to develop waste-to-energy projects internationally, focused on transforming agricultural crop waste like corn cobs and cotton stocks into power in Pakistan, India, and countries in East Africa.
Finding financing to get these projects off the ground was extremely difficult, Joiner said, because investors wanted to know real-time metrics like the amount, quality and source of the fuel being used in the facility—which EnMass Energy didn’t have.
“We started to realize the financing for these projects isn’t going to come into place unless we have a software tool that can run the supply chain, that can verify everything that’s happening with the waste-energy supply chain in real time,” Joiner said.
So in 2018, EnMass Energy shifted towards what it is today: a B2B SaaS company that connects all the parties in waste-to-energy projects—from waste suppliers and energy producers to transporters and trucking companies—through a cloud-based platform. Only energy projects pay for the software, while it’s free for suppliers and transporters to use.
The startup raised $2.15 million in their latest fundraising round from a collection of VC firms, Joiner said. In 2020 they participated in the Techstars Social Impact accelerator in Atlanta, and they had a small friends-and-family round of approximately $100-250K before 2018, Joiner said.
Seeing A Path for Growth
In 2021, EnMass Energy tripled its staff to 25 people and they officially launched their software a few weeks ago, Joiner said. The majority of their customers are in organic materials like food and livestock waste, but the software also works for inorganic waste producers such as plastics or tire companies.
In fact, they are currently working on building a wider customer base because of how pervasive and widespread the problem of lack of supply chain transparency is, Joiner said.
“It’s an issue everywhere, not just low-resource settings and developing countries,” Joiner said. “The entire waste-to-energy industry across the U.S. doesn’t have any real insight into where their feedstock and waste is coming from and they can’t really make very good decisions about how to operate their projects or any internal strategy as a result.”
For instance, Europe has more than four times the number of waste-to-energy facilities as the U.S., despite the U.S. having more farms that generate organic waste. Joiner says that a major reason for that discrepancy is because of how difficult it is for project managers to raise capital.
What makes Joiner so passionate about waste-to-energy as a key weapon in the fight against climate change is what he refers to as the “double economic benefit”—it both reduces emissions from waste and generates renewable energy that displaces natural gas or coal.
“When you put those two benefits together,” he said, “there’s not really anything else on the table technology-wise.”
But, if companies adopting sustainable product-waste-to-energy supply chains is to become the way of the future, Joyner says that the industry has to evolve first. It needs to move away from primitive handshake deals towards digitization and streamlined technology to keep up and actually help the world reach net-zero carbon emissions.
“Our goal is to really make this market and industry more of a market and an actual industry,” Joiner said. “It’s still in the very early stages. We’re looking to really be the middle market for all procurement logistics services within and connecting the waste industry to the energy industry.”