Much of the innovation in the power generation and energy sectors revolves around efficiency, with companies working to ensure a reliable and resilient supply of electricity while also reducing emissions.

Those efficiency measures also include technologies to enhance sustainability, including recycling, cleaner fuels, and providing alternative modes of electric power. Companies such as Clean Energy Technologies (CETY), headquartered in Costa Mesa, California, have a goal to deliver power with zero emissions and at low cost, realizing the potential of heat and biomass among other solutions.

Kam Mahdi, CEO of CETY, recently talked with POWER about the group’s products and services and how they align with clean energy goals of various sectors, including agriculture, where he said there’s a “paradigm shift in the way we perceive and harness the energy potential of American farms.” Mahdi has led CETY since the company was founded in September 2015. He previously served as CEO of Probe Manufacturing, an electronics manufacturing and product development accelerator. His idea of a product development accelerator led his group to acquire General Electric Heat Recovery Solutions, which has supported CETY’s place in the renewable and energy efficiency markets.

Kam Mahdi

Mahdi discussed how the company’s Clean Cycle generator enables the recovery of waste heat for conversion into electricity, and how CETY is transforming waste products from various industries—including agriculture, manufacturing, and wastewater treatment—into electricity and products such as biochar, an important part of regenerative agriculture. The company continues to develop technologies for heat recovery and waste-to-energy on a global level.

POWER: How is your company working in the power generation and larger energy sectors?

Mahdi: I lead a forward-thinking clean energy manufacturing and services company that is committed to providing sustainable solutions worldwide. With a focus on North America, Europe, and Asia, we offer a wide range of recyclable energy solutions, clean energy fuels, and alternative electric power for small and mid-sized projects.

At CETY, our mission is to deliver power with zero emissions and low cost, harnessing the potential of heat and biomass. Our flagship product, the patented Clean Cycle generator, enables us to provide efficient waste heat recovery solutions, converting waste heat into electricity. Additionally, our Waste-to-Energy Solutions are dedicated to transforming waste products from various industries, such as manufacturing, agriculture, and wastewater treatment, into electricity and biochar, further reducing environmental impact.

We also provide comprehensive engineering, consulting, and project management solutions, leveraging our expertise and experience in developing clean energy projects for municipal and industrial customers as well as engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) companies. Our commitment extends to global operations, including our natural gas trading operations in China, where we source and supply natural gas to industries and municipalities, contributing to cleaner energy consumption.

POWER: How would you describe the traditional perception of American farms in terms of their energy potential, and what changes are you witnessing in this perception?

Mahdi: In recent years, there has been a remarkable transformation in the perception of American farms, surpassing their traditional role as agricultural entities focused solely on food production. Historically, farms were viewed as consumers rather than producers of energy, relying on conventional sources such as fossil fuels and electricity grids. However, a discernible shift has occurred, borne out of heightened awareness surrounding sustainability, climate change, and the imperative to reduce dependence on finite resources. This evolving perception now embraces the notion that farms possess tremendous energy potential and are poised to play a pivotal role in the transition to a cleaner and more renewable energy landscape.

This shift in perception heralds a newfound recognition of farms as generators of renewable energy. By harnessing technologies such as biomass facilities, solar panels, wind turbines, and anaerobic digesters, farms can unlock the inherent power within their boundaries. These innovative solutions enable farms to tap into on-site renewable resources, including sunlight, wind, and organic waste, thereby converting them into viable and sustainable energy sources. Consequently, the prevailing understanding appreciates that farms are not only essential food producers but also crucial energy producers, fostering a more sustainable and diversified energy portfolio for the nation.

This evolving perception emphasizes the importance of energy efficiency and conservation practices within farm operations. Energy audits, the adoption of energy-efficient equipment, and the implementation of conservation measures have gained prominence. Such measures underscore the recognition that minimizing energy consumption and optimizing its utilization are vital for the long-term viability of farms. As the perception matures, the significance of energy efficiency becomes increasingly apparent, leading to more comprehensive strategies to reduce the environmental footprint of farm operations.

POWER: Can you discuss some key factors driving the shift in how we perceive and harness the energy potential of American farms?

Mahdi: The shift in how we perceive and harness the energy potential of American farms is driven by several key factors. First, there is a heightened awareness of sustainability and the need to combat climate change, prompting the recognition of farms as sources of renewable energy. Advances in renewable energy technologies have also made it more feasible for farms to install and operate systems such as solar panels and wind turbines, facilitating their transition to clean energy sources. Furthermore, the desire for energy independence and resilience, the economic opportunities associated with renewable energy, supportive policies and incentives, and the integration of energy and agricultural technologies have all contributed to reshaping the perception of farms as vital contributors to the renewable energy landscape. This evolving understanding not only benefits farms but also promotes a more sustainable and decentralized energy future for the United States.

POWER: How are waste-to-energy solutions being utilized to generate renewable energy, and what benefits do they offer?

Mahdi: CETY’s Waste-to-Energy technology is a cutting-edge solution that leverages the High Temperature Ablative Pyrolysis Reactor (HTAP) to convert waste materials into synthetic (renewable) natural gas. This containerized system enables the production of clean and sustainable energy for onsite power generation or renewable natural gas (RNG) applications.

The High Temperature Ablative Pyrolysis Reactor (HTAP) is a waste-to-energy system that converts waste materials into synthetic (renewable) natural gas. Source: CETY

The process begins by feeding the waste materials into the HTAP reactor, where they undergo a high-temperature decomposition process. Through this thermal decomposition, the waste materials are transformed into synthetic natural gas, which can be utilized as a renewable fuel source. The generated gas can be used for onsite power generation, supplying electricity to the facility, or it can be compressed and utilized as RNG for various applications, such as transportation or industrial use.

Our technology offers several key benefits. First, it tackles waste management challenges by offering a sustainable and efficient solution for waste disposal. Through the conversion of waste materials into renewable natural gas, it diminishes reliance on conventional waste treatment methods such as landfilling or incineration, which have adverse environmental consequences. Second, this technology contributes to the diversification of energy sources and reduces dependence on fossil fuels. By utilizing synthetic natural gas as a fuel, it facilitates a transition towards cleaner energy alternatives, resulting in decreased greenhouse gas emissions and the mitigation of environmental pollution.

Lastly, our Waste-to-Energy technology presents economic advantages. It generates new revenue streams by monetizing waste materials that would otherwise incur disposal costs. The produced synthetic natural gas can be utilized on-site to reduce energy expenses or sold to external users, thereby creating supplementary income opportunities for businesses that adopt the technology.

POWER: Can you provide examples of successful farm-based energy projects that have transformed the way energy is harnessed on agricultural lands?

Mahdi: Solar energy is widely embraced by farmers for its numerous applications in agricultural settings. Some common uses of solar energy in agriculture include irrigation, crop drying, and greenhouse operations. In addition to solar energy, farmers often opt to install wind turbines on their land to achieve energy independence.

Another notable practice in the agricultural sector is the implementation of anaerobic digestion (AD) farms. These facilities employ a process where organic materials, such as animal waste, are broken down by bacteria in the absence of oxygen, resulting in the production of biogas, primarily methane. This biogas can be utilized for electricity generation and heating purposes.

During a recent conference, we had fruitful discussions about the relevance of CETY’s HTAP technology to produce renewable natural gas to be used as fuel for onsite power generation. It is worth noting that not all types of agricultural waste can be effectively treated in anaerobic digesters (AD). Therefore, the innovative CETY HTAP technology holds promise for addressing this limitation and finding its rightful place in the aggregated waste processing landscape. Additionally, the digestate produced during the AD process can potentially be utilized in conjunction with the CETY HTAP technology, further enhancing waste management practices.

POWER: In what ways are farms being incentivized or encouraged to adopt renewable energy technologies, and what challenges or barriers do they face in this transition?

Mahdi: One of the primary incentives for farms is the availability of financial support through grants, tax credits, and loans. Government agencies at federal, state, and local levels offer programs specifically designed to assist farmers in adopting renewable energy technologies. These financial incentives help offset the initial costs of installing renewable energy systems, making them more accessible and economically viable for farmers.

Net metering and feed-in tariffs are additional mechanisms that incentivize farms to adopt renewable energy. Net metering allows farms to sell excess electricity generated from their renewable energy systems back to the grid, thereby offsetting their energy costs or even generating revenue. Feed-in tariffs guarantee a fixed payment rate for the renewable energy generated by farms, providing a reliable source of income and return on investment.

POWER: How do you envision the future of energy production and consumption on American farms, and what role will renewable energy play in this transformation?

Mahdi: Farms can become major contributors to microgrid application. Farms are well-suited for microgrid applications due to their available land, potential for renewable energy generation, and often remote or rural locations. Farms can generate renewable energy through solar panels, wind turbines, or biomass systems. The excess energy produced can be fed into the microgrid, reducing reliance on the main grid and increasing energy independence. The farm’s renewable energy sources can power not only their own operations but also nearby communities or other connected facilities.

Farms can integrate energy storage systems, into their microgrid infrastructure. During peak demand periods or when the grid is stressed, farms can adjust their energy consumption or temporarily curtail non-essential loads. This helps to balance the overall energy demand and supply within the microgrid and can also provide financial incentives for the farm.

Microgrids also enhance grid resilience, particularly in areas prone to power outages or natural disasters.

POWER: Are there any policy or regulatory changes that need to occur to fully unlock the energy potential of American farms, and how can stakeholders work together to facilitate this shift?

Mahdi: To fully maximize the energy potential of American farms, it is crucial to implement policy and regulatory changes. These changes should focus on several key areas: streamlined permitting and interconnection processes, stable feed-in tariffs and power purchase agreements, renewable energy targets, financial incentives, and grid integration measures. Collaboration among various stakeholders, including farmers, agricultural organizations, renewable energy developers, government agencies, utilities, and communities, is essential to drive these necessary shifts. By working together, they can pave the way for a sustainable and resilient energy future, harnessing the full potential of American farms.

In the context of farming businesses, energy demand typically follows a cyclical pattern due to the seasonal nature of agricultural activities. However, recent trends show that utility companies are imposing stricter conditions for grid connections, which can pose challenges for agriculture waste-producing sites. These sites often need to allocate a significant portion of their energy for auxiliary needs. To address this issue, the implementation of eRINs (Renewable Identification Numbers) can be instrumental in boosting agriculture waste recovery activities. This would effectively shift the role of utilities from being sole buyers of energy to becoming service providers for energy transportation. Additionally, regulatory measures should be put in place to decouple modern thermochemical waste recovery processes from legacy incineration practices. This can be achieved by focusing on biomass-to-energy conversion efficiency levels and building upon existing Environmental Protection Agency air emissions regulations.

Darrell Proctor is a senior associate editor for POWER (@POWERmagazine).