Ener-Core gears up to launch 2 MW offering

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Ener-Core, in association with its partners, Siemens and Dresser Rand, is approaching the final stages in the development of its 2 MW oxidizer technology, and hopes that final testing will be completed at the end of June.

It’s a big step in the evolution of the Ener-Core Power Oxidizer, a technology that enables the conversion of the poorest quality waste gases into useful heat and power.

CEO of Ener-Core, Alain Castro, spoke to Decentralized Energy about the significance of reaching 2 MW, with the continuing momentum towards greater energy efficiency and ever-stringent environmental legislation marking the power oxidizer out as essential kit for companies with high carbon output.
Alain Castro of Ener-Core
Castro recalls living in London around the time the wind industry was edging closer to breaking the 1.5 MW barrier for wind turbine capacity and sees the parallels now with what his team is endeavouring to achieve.

“They were all around the same, at 800 kW. An immense amount of money was being spent by the likes of Vestas, Nordex, and others. The game was dollar per megawatt – it had to come down in order to get cheaper energy and be competitive. As your machine gets bigger your dollar per megawatt gets more financially efficient. They were eventually able to do that,” Castro says, noting that wave energy has not yet overcome its 1 MW Everest despite considerable investment.

“If they don’t get over that barrier they will always be seen as a fringe sideline technology never up to that utility scale.”

In that context the California-based firm is very excited at making the strides it hopes will greatly increase its visibility. For 14 months a 25-strong team of engineers from Ener-Core, Dresser Rand and Siemens have been collaborating across four cities. The next two months will be taken up with a full scale acceptance test, consisting of 28-32 isolated tests that the 2 MW system needs to pass.

It will be the first 2 MW system to run on really poor quality waste gases, categorised as useless gases traditionally flared to minimise their impact on the atmosphere, and unfit for energy generation.

“We have proved the notion that these gases are unfit for power generation is false. Until Ener-Core these sources of gases were never considered.”

“It’s a critical step to get the world to accept that it can be done in multi megawatt sizes. As long as we remained as a 250 Kilowatt system it’s not enough to break into the mainstream power world.”

The clamour to make the world and especially its cities and industries more energy-efficient has grown louder since Paris and COP21 in late November. Castro says it helps to have a blue chip organisation like Siemens fronting the technology, Ener-Core happy to provide a telling contribution in more discrete fashion.

“It is Siemens rather than us who are commercialising the system. Our business model is like Intel – you personally have probably never purchased a product from Intel but its sitting in your computer.”

“Wherever in the world you are its accepted that emissions regulations are getting tougher. At least no one is saying that is going to relax or get easier in terms of air quality regulations that have to be complied with. The companies we speak with range from major wastewater treatment plants to petrochemical companies and food processing and whisky distilleries – they are interested in any solution that’s coming down the pipe that’s going to keep them ahead of the curve in terms of what is coming from the environmental ministry.”

From a market and intellectual property domain perspective, Ener-Core’s product is out on its own. Based on how well their system destroys greenhouse gases and volatile organic compounds as well as the non-production of NOx, no one else is providing a solution nearly as effective in helping clients far exceed regulations on emissions. Yet recognition, Castro acknowledges, will be slow until that 2MW barrier is breached.

“We exceed every regulation we’ve seen anywhere and we are the only ones who are actually turning these poor quality gases into something monetizable –If you really want industries to take reduction of emissions seriously, there’s no better tool than to give them a method that can help them monetise that behaviour –that’s more impactful than any regulation from the ministry of environment.”

“We’re giving companies a tool to make them sustainable but aligned with their objectives of becoming lower cost and higher profit.”

Castro says because they are the only company providing this technology, it’s under the radar. By contrast when the wind industry hit the aforementioned milestone, there was a loud collective voice to alert markets.

However if the savings such as that experienced by one wastewater treatment centre client gets some attention, it may not be long before Ener-Core becomes as well known as the ubiquitous Intel.

“We’re seeing some places where the paybacks are surprising even to us – there is a wastewater treatment plant on the US west coast, which could see the installation of a complete system comprising Ener-Core’s Power Oxidizer coupled with a gas-turbine and an industrial dryer, all powered by the waste gases which are currently destroyed at the site. The entire project would represent a $9-11m investment."

“During that conversation we told them we can also generate heat as cogeneration is about power and heat. When we asked them how they dry all their waste, they say they can’t do that on-site as the regulations are too difficult, with too much Nox being generated. So, they had been trucking that waste up to 250 miles to landfill it at a cost of $4.5m per year."

“When we tell them we can dry it and generate no less than 1ppm of Nox, take the trucks off the road and save $5m a year, it gets a reaction.”

"Effectively, this means the entire project would achieve a financial payback of two years, while reducing the on-going costs of operations by $5-7m and making the wastewater treatment plant more environmentally sustainable."  



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