While there is no shortage of players involved in the destruction of carbon emissions, a California-based company is beginning to get recognition for its capability in emissions utilisation.
Ener-Core, headquartered in Irvine, recently saw Dresser-Rand license its product and the company expects more potential clients to take note as awareness grows of the commercial and environmental advantages to its power oxidizer technology.
CEO Alain Castro provided further detail on the unique selling proposition of the technology when speaking to us this week.
“We literally have a solution that can convert a lot of industrial air emissions directly into clean power. Where we’re different is that we effectively represent an emissions solution that actually monetises the pollutions profitably. Companies not only comply with the strictest standards of air quality but rather than destroy the emissions outright, can actually convert it into useful on-site power.”
That solution is the Ener-Core Power Oxidizer and it enables the conversion of gases into useful heat and power with the lowest known associated emissions.
The product can be applied to gas turbines, offering systems with fuel flexibility and pollution control for power generation. It can also be customized for integration with larger existing power generation systems to offer unrivalled pollution control and the achievement of zero emissions.
With businesses under pressure to reduce emissions throughout the world, technologies aimed at that requirement are thick on the ground, but Ener-Core’s offering sweetens the pill in terms of the capital investment needed for compliance.
“Our competitive marketplace is effectively the regenerative thermal oxidisers, all sorts of flare systems, all sorts of SCR systems that get coupled with engines; you could categorise them all as emissions destruction. We are involved in emissions utilisation – using that emissions stream to generate power, competing against a long list of technologies that destroy the emissions which means there is no return, doesn’t monetise anything, it just serves to make you compliant with the air quality standards of your jurisdiction.”
A most recent beneficiary is the Pacific Ethanol Company. The Californian company are installing 3.5 MW of on-site power with Enercore’s technology. The decision means that from an air quality standpoint they could likely become the lowest air emissions ethanol producer in North America.
That’s not a bad boast from the world’s largest ethanol market but there’s more to it than that, as Castro explains.
“The interesting thing is that they are doing that while at the same time generating on-site power from the waste gas so the result is that they are able to offset $3m-$4m a year of power and natural gas that they were buying from the utility and the pipeline. They effectively get a payback from their emissions equipment that’s quite rapid. Usually that’s not the case; usually emissions equipment is a cost to stay compliant, it’s not something you usually get a return on investment on in terms of real benefit to the operation.”
With global leaders under strain in attempting to resolve the world’s global warming dilemma, Ener-Core’s innovation couldn’t be timelier. At the very least it can potentially eliminate the practice of flaring, a process that contributes to the Earth’s emission problem, not to mention the horrendous waste of money it represents.
Currently $65bn worth of poor quality gasses are flared off every year, around 150 billion cubic metres of gas flared and while the practice is being phased out gradually in some countries, in others it doesn’t look like abating.
“The other trend is distributed generation,” says Castro. “Distributed generation absolutely needs some element of base load power and energy storage is candidate for that –but so does what we do – our equipment is out there on industrial sites converting the poor quality gases into onsite clean base load power. Our technology can also be an excellent complement too to several renewables which are intermittent, we provide that base load that’s needed to provide that stability as well.”
The Ener- Core CEO says that its versatility means it is equally adaptable outside the sphere of power generation as wastewater treatment, alcohol, petrochemicals, steel mills, landfills and oil refineries, to mention but a few industries, are still going to need refining even if fossil fuels are no longer used.
“Basically all these sources of gas are getting flared off but we can now help industries stop emitting these gases into the atmosphere in any way or form and we can offer it to the world in an attractive way that can see a return on investment. It’s one of these rare stories where a more sustainable industrial complex is possible but in a manner where they don’t have to outlay.”
John Millard, Ener- Core’s Director for Middle East and Europe referred to another very high profile announcement to emphasise the unique potential of the Power Oxidizer. It will have particular resonance in Europe where energy efficiency is the new watch phrase in the EU’s energy union crusade.
“The Tesla wall battery is a great thing but it’s not going to solve these industrial issues. What we are doing is taking these industrial waste gases that have to be treated in some way and turning it into useful power and therefore reducing the overall power consumption of that industry.”
Castro says the company is well aware of the ongoing legislative drive towards energy efficiency in Europe and globally. He says that it’s definitely a help but the elegance of the solution somehow makes that incidental.
“What we are quite excited about is that this makes great financial sense –it demonstrates a good return on investment even in a complete absence of legislation. Even if a company today lives in a country where a government is laissez-faire about emissions, with no penalties – even in those scenarios it makes more financial sense to utilise their emissions and convert it to energy and they can save.”
“In the case of the Pacific Ethanol, they are going to reduce their annual operating costs by $4m – that’s a competitive differentiator. Most ethanol manufacturers in America are buying power, they are going to be using what they were previously burning to make their own power so they are going to get a nice little return on investment. Legislation helps because it speeds it up. It puts pressure on to do something. In the case of the ethanol plant there was no legislative impetus on them to do it and they know that in the future if legislation gets tougher they’re going to be just that bit better off.”
At the moment despite having a compelling product, Ener-Core doesn’t have the heft publicity-wise that an operation like Tesla possesses. Its modus operandi is not to commercialize the oxidizer directly, but instead to partner with large established multinational manufacturers of power equipment who license the product from them under their recognized brand.
Ener-Core’s first licensee is Dresser-Rand who possess a well-established 2 MW gas engine called the KG2, with the traditional combustor and rotating equipment. The Power Oxidizer is replacing the job of that combustor chamber and the heat is sent directly to the rotating equipment of the turbine and the turbine does what it is designed to do – it’s simply receiving its heat from an EnerCore Power Oxidiser instead of a combustor.
“We effectively enable a turbine to run on gases that no turbine today can run on and we envision doing that with several of the other first tier turbine manufacturers. We will work upstream, we are starting at 2 MW, but we’ll get to 5 and 10 MW and eventually even larger MW per machine and we envision doing the same with industrial boilers. A boiler also runs on a combustor. A combustor limits a boiler from running on low quality waste gases so we will work with boiler companies to effectively replace the combustor but let the rest of the boiler do what it was designed to do which is convert heat into steam.”
The technology took a decade to perfect and the company only started to commercialize it towards the end of 2013. A landfill in the Netherlands is set to be presented publicly next month at the POWER-GEN Europe conference in Amsterdam.
Millard says the company sees a lot of potential in Europe and the Middle East.
“A lot of the sites we are looking at have the low hanging fruit very much common to a lot of countries, you have the landfill, the coal mines that have been capped off. Coal is like oil as it has gas within it, and that gas has to be handled and is a source of low quality gases and that’s a market we are looking at, and of course there is a lot of biofuel manufacturing across Europe.”
It’s a promising business landscape for Ener-Core, and Castro underlines the essence of the niche the company is designed to fulfil:
“A fairly renowned academic recently said to me if you really think about air pollution from any industrial complex, whether a wastewater treatment plant, or a refinery or a landfill or coal mine, the air pollution is not the problem. The air pollution is a symptom of another problem. The underlying problem is a lack of efficiency because if any industrial complex was 100 per cent efficient it would waste nothing.”