Kore Infrastructure Is Turning Waste Into Clean Energy in Downtown LA

David Shultz

David Shultz reports on clean technology and electric vehicles, among other industries, for dot.LA. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Outside, Nautilus and many other publications.

Kore Infrastructure's pyrolysis facility in Downtown Los Angeles.​
Courtesy of Kore Infrastructure

Hydrogen accounts for roughly 70% of all matter in the universe—and these days, it seems that hydrogen power startups account for about the same share of emerging green-tech companies in California. But while the space is replete with big dreams using hydrogen to power planes, cars, buildings and more, most companies are still years away from finishing a prototype—let alone building a plant or going to market.

Not so for Kore Infrastructure. The energy startup is already online at its plant in Downtown Los Angeles, where it’s converting tons of waste into hydrogen, biogas, natural gas and carbon char every day.

The idea behind Kore’s technology is similar to that of other companies also deploying the process known as pyrolysis: You take organic waste like deadwood and brush, heat them in a low oxygen environment at a very high temperature, and collect the gasses and carbon char left over. When all goes well, this avenue of hydrogen production can be carbon negative, meaning that CO2 is removed from the carbon cycle that usually sees it burned into the atmosphere.

When a pile of manure is left in a field, for instance, it naturally converts into methane and CO2—two greenhouse gasses that warm the planet. But if the manure is fed into a pyrolysis machine, about half of that carbon is converted into solid carbon, also called char. In this form, the carbon atoms can’t be broken down by microbes and released as CO2. The element is then sequestered as a solid, and its potential to warm the atmosphere is eliminated.

Now, after 14 years of quietly developing and building its technology, Kore is coming out of stealth mode and ready to start selling its pyrolysis machines to practically anybody looking to process organic waste. The company’s machines can handle a variety of inputs—from nut shells, agricultural tree prunings and biosolids to construction and demolition waste.

“The big differentiator with Kore is having steel on the ground, having something operational, having something to show,” Kore founder and executive chairman Cornelius Shields told dot.LA. “If you're going to build these types of facilities, you have to go through a lot of pain.”

Part of the reason that Kore suddenly seems to be at the forefront of the pyrolysis race is that it’s had a considerable head start. The company has been quietly operating since 2008 and built its first full-scale pyrolysis machine in 2015. These machines are massive, occupying a real estate footprint of close to an acre; to the untrained eye, they look like an unholy amalgamation of pipes, tanks and valves. At maximum capacity, one of the machines can process 24 tons of feedstock per day to produce 1,000 kilograms of green hydrogen and six tons of solid carbon char.

Kore Infrastructure's pyrolysis machines in Downtown L.A.Kore Infrastructure's pyrolysis machines in Downtown L.A.Courtesy of Kore Infrastructure

Kore’s technology eventually drew the interest of SoCalGas, which provided a $1.5 million grant in 2017 that allowed the startup to begin setting up operations in Downtown L.A. By August 2021, the company had completed permitting and construction of the plant and began running its pyrolysis machine as a proof of concept for commercial applications.

“We have been pretty quiet,” Shields said. “As a founder, I just wanted to make sure that we were ready [and] that the technology was working before we came to market—that we knew we had real data, and it just wasn't a hope and a prayer.”

While Kore is still coy on its exact business strategy going forward, Shields says it's fair to estimate that a pyrolysis machine will cost up to tens of millions of dollars to purchase. That’s not a small chunk of change—but compared to the cost of building a full pyrolysis plant, which can cost $100 million or more, Kore thinks it may be able to entice buyers.

“We're selling modular systems to industry,” according to Shields. “That kind of scaling is far faster because an industrial client can say, ‘Okay, let's do two modules to start. Let's see how that goes, and then we can add other modules.’”

Pyrolysis’ appeal is bolstered by financial incentives like the California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) tax credits and the federal 45Q tax credit, which award companies for saving and sequestering carbon emissions. Then there’s the hydrogen itself, which currently costs about $10 per kilogram at the gas pump if you drive a hydrogen car. And even the char left over from the process is valuable: The solid carbon can be used in fertilizers and to strengthen concrete, but it can also be burned as a coal substitute. (Obviously, burning the char undoes all the hard work of sequestering the carbon in the first place—but for hard-to-decarbonize industries like steel and cement production, a carbon-neutral fuel source is a massive improvement over coal.)

“We can decarbonize transportation fuels in the state [and] decarbonize the supply chain for natural gas—and then use the same technology to make hydrogen as demand for that ramps up,” Kore executive vice president Steve Wirtel told dot.LA. It’s this sort of double-edged benefit that makes Kore’s technology exciting for Wirtel: Pyrolysis converts carbon that would otherwise warm the planet into a coal substitute, and produces green hydrogen in the process.

Given those multiple revenue streams, pyrolysis is becoming an increasingly attractive waste disposal avenue, and Kore is hoping to have its first commercial machine sold and delivered to a customer by the end of this year. The company is also looking to raise an “institutional round of capital,” Shields said, citing interest from private equity investors.

He added that Kore is already drawing international interest in its technology, but is planning to stay conservative for the time being and focus on scaling locally—part and parcel of the slow and deliberate pace that’s served the company well to this point.

“There's so much opportunity in our backyard in California, that's where we're going to stay for now,” Shields said.

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Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

When avatar startup Genies raised $150 million in April, the company released an unusual message to the public: “Farewell.”

The Marina del Rey-based unicorn, which makes cartoon-like avatars for celebrities and aims to “build an avatar for every single person on Earth,” didn’t go under. Rather, Genies announced it would stay quiet for a while to focus on building avatar-creation products.

Genies representatives told dot.LA that the firm is now seeking more creators to try its creation tools for 3D avatars, digital fashion items and virtual experiences. On Thursday, the startup launched a three-week program called DIY Collective, which will mentor and financially support up-and-coming creatives.

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Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

LA Tech Week—a weeklong showcase of the region’s growing startup ecosystem—is coming this August.

The seven-day series of events, from Aug. 15 through Aug. 21, is a chance for the Los Angeles startup community to network, share insights and pitch themselves to investors. It comes a year after hundreds of people gathered for a similar event that allowed the L.A. tech community—often in the shadow of Silicon Valley—to flex its muscles.

From fireside chats with prominent founders to a panel on aerospace, here are some highlights from the roughly 30 events happening during LA Tech Week, including one hosted by dot.LA.

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PCH Driven: Director Jason Wise Talks Wine, Documentaries, and His New Indie Streaming Service SOMMTV

Jamie Williams
­Jamie Williams is the host of the “PCH Driven” podcast, a show about Southern California entrepreneurs, innovators and its driven leaders on their road to success. The series celebrates and reveals the wonders of the human spirit and explores the motivations behind what drives us.
Jason Wise holding wine glass
Image courtesy of Jason Wise

Jason Wise may still consider himself a little kid, but the 33-year-old filmmaker is building an IMDB page that rivals colleagues twice his age.

As the director behind SOMM, SOMM2, SOMM3, and the upcoming SOMM4, Wise has made a career producing award-winning documentary films that peer deep into the wine industry in Southern California and around the world.

On this episode of the PCH Driven podcast, he talks about life growing up in Cleveland as a horrible student, filmmaking, Los Angeles and his latest entrepreneurial endeavor: A streaming service called SOMMTV that features–what else?–documentaries about wine.

The conversation covers some serious ground, but the themes of wine and film work to anchor the discussion, and Wise dispenses bits of sage filmmaking advice.

“With a documentary you can just start filming right now,” he says. “That’s how SOMM came about. I got tossed into that world during the frustration of trying to make a different film, and I just started filming it, because no one could stop me because I was paying for it myself. That’s the thing with docs,” or “The good thing about SOMM is that you can explain it in one sentence: ‘The hardest test in the world is about wine, and you’ve never heard about it.’”

…Or at least maybe you hadn’t before he made his first film. Now with three SOMM documentaries under his belt, Wise is nearing completion of “SOMM4: Cup of Salvation,” which examines the history of wine’s relationship with religion. Wise says it’s “a wild film,” that spans multiple countries, the Vatican and even an active warzone. As he puts it, the idea is to show that “wine is about every subject,” rather than “every subject is about wine.”

For Wise, the transition to launching his own streaming service came out of his frustration with existing platforms holding too much power over the value of the content he produces.

“Do we want Netflix to tell us what our projects are worth or do we want the audience to do that?” he asks.

But unlike giants in the space, SOMMTV has adopted a gradual approach of just adding small bits of content as they develop. Without the need to license 500 or 1,000 hours of programming, Wise has been able to basically bootstrap SOMMTV and provide short form content and other more experimental offerings that typically get passed over by the Hulus and Disneys of the world.

So far, he says, the experiment is working, and now Wise is looking to raise some serious capital to keep up with the voracious appetites of his subscribers.

“Send those VCs my way,” Wise jokes.

Subscribe to PCH Driven on Apple, Stitcher, Spotify, iHeart, Google or wherever you get your podcasts.

dot.LA reporter David Shultz contributed to this report.