A recent meeting between Mike Cormier and a Manager at one of Los Angeles’ 14 Air Quality Management Districts (AQMD) is instructive in understanding not just the incredible qualities of Ener-Core’s new Power Oxidizer technology, but also how much the product’s backers have to do to get the message out to the right audience.
“I was talking to him about the project and he kept staring at me until eventually I asked him if there was a problem,” says Cormier, Director of Sales for the KG2 Gas Turbine and Power Oxidizer technologies for Siemens’s Dresser-Rand business.
The AQMD Chief said, ‘there’s no problem, this is just too good to be true.’
“I said I agree – making power with less than 1ppm NOx, and with no post-exhaust treatment is pretty amazing. He replied that in his territory alone they have hundreds of flares. What we’re hoping is once we get some hours on the reference units this will take off, as it’s a power-generation solution that can literally eliminate flares.
While the technology now has a high profile reference case in the Pacific Ethanol Stockton 60 million gallon per year ethanol plant in Stockton, CA, it shows just how hard companies have to work to drive interest in a new technology, when its merits seem relatively obvious.
The conservative nature of the power industry means, regardless of the claims being made for the technology, they want to see a longer-term proof of it working in the field before committing.
To summarize, Ener-Core’s Power Oxidizers are designed to replace the traditional gas-fired combustion chamber within) gas turbines. The resulting gas turbine solution enables industrial sites to convert their low-quality waste gases directly into useful clean power.
Under a license agreement with Ener-Core, the Power Oxidizer technology allows the Dresser-Rand business, part of Siemens Power & Gas, to provide industrial clients with a first-of-its-kind solution as a combined system with its KG2-3G gas turbine that can substantially reduce their purchases of energy from the grid while also reducing carbon and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions, and reducing the typical costs of running a pollution abatement system (flares, and others).
Right now, it’s a proven technology with a high profile client. Once it becomes more established at that client, Cormier expects to see momentum in its fortunes.
“While we were building the Pacific Ethanol project we were also developing post-sales customers who are anxiously awaiting results and they’re going to see them now,“ Cormier told Decentralized Energy.
“While no decision has yet been made, we are taking a look at the market and seeing if there is a need for the Power Oxidizer in larger gas turbines. Right now we are offering it at a 2 MW level and there is certainly a market for it at that size, though we’re not yet sure just how large the market will be for larger units.”
While internal research continues into the suitability of the Power Oxidizer integrated within larger gas turbines, the Dresser-Rand business team is promoting the 2 MW standard to clients across a broad range of industries, many of whom are, up until now, oblivious to its virtues, but ideally placed to benefit greatly from its application.
“We are currently promoting it to landfills, wastewater treatment plants, and pharmaceutical companies among others that generate waste gas. There is also the automotive industry where they do a lot of high-volume painting and with this new solution, gas from the waste fumes can be used to generate power. This is uniquely a solution for using low quality waste gas fumes, but one of the challenges with new technology is client references. Everyone wants to see performance data for already running units.”
“With it now under commissioning (at Pacific Ethanol) to make power and steam, we want to make use of this reference and establish a good size installed base. After that we could look at expanding up to the next size (megawatt turbines).”
Apart from the usual difficulty in bringing a new product to market, are there any other reasons that might explain why this product hasn’t been heralded more?
“We’re focusing on customers that have waste gases that they have little or no other use for. It’s a matter of how much waste gases a customer generates, and you certainly have to have enough to operate the unit, which is what motivated Pacific Ethanol to install at its Stockton ethanol plant.”
The Sacramento-based company has enough waste gas to operate approximately 6 per cent of their required gas requirements. Pacific Ethanol Stockton purchased two power oxidizers connected to two 1.8 MW combustion turbines with heat recovery steam generators and supplement a waste gas stream with natural gas. This creates a benefit to reduce operating cost of fuel supply, displacing expensive electricity purchases from the utility, producing low NOX electricity, and shutting down their previous pollution abatement system.
“If they’re using 6 per cent less fuel in their gas turbine they’ll still save a lot of money because once you get any type of gas turbine installed, whether it has a Power Oxidizer or not, your largest operating cost is fuel. In fact, it’s fairly well recognized that 66-70% of the total life-cycle cost of a gas turbine is the cost of fuel, whereas the capital expenditure for the turbine only represents approximately 20-25% of the total life-cycle cost.”
The Dresser-Rand business is keen to take the KG2-3G Power Oxidizer system into international markets. Even though ethanol is an area of breakthrough, that industry is relatively limited in the US.
Landfills are certainly a great fit and are numerous throughout the world. Although Europe, for example, is moving away in favour of digesters, landfills continue to produce gas for around 100 years after they are closed. Digesters also work well with the Power Oxidizer technology.
“Once you close a landfill, you’ve got enough volume of gas to operate a gas turbine or gas engine but only for a limited period of time – there is only enough high-quality methane for a minimal number of years after closure; whereas this technology can enable a closed landfill to continue generating power for decades.”
“It can operate on very low energy fuels and the initial reviews show that we can extend the life of the landfill for producing electricity for probably 50 or 60 additional years beyond what a standard gas turbine or reciprocating engine is able to do. That’s just free energy – 100 percent free gas that can be used productively to generate power with low to no emissions instead of flaring it off.”
Environmentally and economically the product makes sense. When Power Oxidizers are installed, flares can be shut off and the client can make electricity with substantially less NOx emissions.- They are reducing emissions while simultaneously producing electricity, something a flare won’t do.
Similarly with the more prevalent digesters available today, the Power Oxidizer can use the waste gas produced and make electricity with ultra-low emissions.
“Pretty much every wastewater treatment plant around the world is using digesters now and those digesters are also forming gas that we can use in the Power Oxidizer and the beauty of it is that the Power Oxidizer is more tolerant to the H2S being generated in the digesters, so customers can potentially reduce the cost of clean-up. If you have H2S and you oxidize it, it turns into SO2 and SO3. You decide whether to take the H2S itself and the customer starts to have some options they can look at because fuel gas clean up can be incredibly expensive.”
One recent example of where the Power Oxidizer was trialled by Ener-Core involved a landfill in the Netherlands where a 250 KW microturbine was utilised to good effect.
The available energy at the landfill was no longer enough to run the reciprocating engines, which would continually shutdown due to the low-quality of the gas. The installation of the Power Oxidizer allowed for re-commencement as it was capable of using the available lower quality gases.
Cormier says the potential for the Power Oxidizer technology may not remain under-appreciated for very long.
“I think people don’t realise how much waste gas is out there, not just in North America, but throughout the world.”
“What we, as a global society, are either flaring or venting into the atmosphere can be used to power the whole USA. We are trying to be as environmentally friendly as we can, but we are ignoring this potentially huge stream of waste gas, and are not realizing the significant benefits as we could.”
“The fact is emissions are much higher from flaring than using a Power Oxidizer to eliminate those emissions, and the Power Oxidizer actually generates valuable energy, which results in a much more interesting equipment investment than an investment with associated flaring which is wasteful and adversely impacts the environment.”
Ener-Core chief enthused about next steps for Power Oxidizer
Big leap forward for Ener-Core’s ‘ground-breaking technology’