Just add oxygen and you got clean coal technology!
This story ran on nwitimes.com on Wednesday, November 1, 2006 7:59 AM CST
Jupiter eyes clean-coal bonanza
BY KATHERINE LING Medill News Service
Jupiter Oxygen Corp. is a clean-coal technology developer named after the largest planet in the solar system, with ambitions to live up to its namesake's stature.
The key is whether its new technology could retrofit the more than 600 existing U.S. coal-fired power plants. They account for 18 percent of total U.S. nitrous oxide and more than 40 percent of total U.S. carbon dioxide emissions per year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
But first, the six-year-old company, headquartered in Schiller Park with a plant in Hammond, must prove its technology can work on a commercial power plant because nobody wants to be first, President Dietrich Gross, Jupiter's founder and inventor of the process, explained.
"Wherever we go, we hear the same thing, 'Yes, we are excited. Show us, and we are right behind you,' " Gross said.
In September, Jupiter took a big step toward proving its worth by announcing an agreement with the Ohio Air Quality Development Authority for the world's first oxy-fuel clean-coal retrofit of an operating electric plant, on a 25 megawatt boiler in Orrville, Ohio.
This retrofit "means to us as much to the rest of the industry. They are all watching. And many people are knowledgeable about what we are doing," said Gross.
Jupiter's technology burns pure oxygen together with fossil fuels. This fuel-efficient process emits almost no nitrous oxide and compresses carbon dioxide for sequestration, according to Senior Vice President of Operations and General Counsel Mark Schoenfield.
The technology has great potential, according to William Simmons, a principal partner of Coalteck LLC, a clean-coal and biomass technology consulting firm based in Evansville.
Simmons, a former executive of Vectren Corp., an Indiana utility, and a technical adviser for the U.S. Department of Energy, says there's nothing that competes with oxy-fuel technology in emissions except nuclear energy, and oxy-fuel is likely the best technology to convert coal and natural gas into energy.
"Jupiter is probably going to be the leader of (oxy-fuel technology) from a funding point of view and (its) agreement with Orrville," Simmons said.
"They are going at a faster pace than their competitors."
Their competitors in oxy-fuel technology include Ohio-based Babcock and Wilcox Co., a subsidiary of McDermott International, Inc., and Stockholm-based Vattenfall AB, which announced this year it will construct the world's first oxy-fuel, carbon dioxide-free, coal-fired power plant in Germany.
But Vattenfall's technology is not as efficient as Jupiter's, according to Vattenfall's own estimates. The plant expects to have an efficiency of only 35 percent in converting coal to energy, whereas traditional coal plants report 45 percent efficiency. Jupiter expects a minimum of 51 percent efficiency, based on previous tests, Schoenfield said.
Simmons cautioned, however, that the Orrville test "is going to cost more money and take longer than (Jupiter) thinks."
Beside the retrofit, Jupiter worked with the Department of Energy on a new half-megawatt plant and is in negotiations to construct a 5-megawatt plant to be built in Hammond, according to Schoenfield. The Energy Department declines to comment on the project at this time, an official said.
There is considerable money to be generated from technology that could provide clean coal, a domestic fuel so abundant that the U.S. reserves will last at least 200 years at current-use levels. Utility companies like Exelon Corp. and Ameren Corp, are investing heavily in commercialization of various technologies, such as filters and gasification, to clean up coal's dirty emissions.
And the government is offering incentives for clean-coal technology, including a production tax incentive that would pay 34 cents per kilowatt-hour for energy generated from a retrofitted plant, which could add up to $89 million per year, according to the Energy Information Administration.
Jupiter has current revenue of $6.9 million, mostly in research funding and contracts with the government, Schoenfield said.
But even with the cleanest of technologies, there is still the issue of emissions, Simmons added. The technology "sounds real good for some decades, but eventually we will run out of places to put the carbon dioxide" that would be captured in the burning process.
According to Schoenfield, Jupiter's oxy-fuel technology captures 95 percent of carbon dioxide emissions and emits only .088 pounds of nitrous oxide per million British thermal units per day, and expects to achieve .05 in the next round of tests. That is below the Energy Department's current goal for the U.S. -- "to achieve an intermediate-term nitrous oxide target of 0.10 lb/million Btu by 2010."
"We hear a lot about regulatory uncertainty from businesses," Schoenfield said. "One of the advantages for ultimate users in terms of companies is that the investment (in Jupiter Oxygen technology) they make today should get them through (emission standards) for quite a while--longer than anybody could possibly project anything," he explained.
The process was originally developed by Gross for his aluminum company, Hammond-based Jupiter Aluminum, to cope with "skyrocketing" fuel prices in the mid-'90s.
"I was very angry," he explained, "and I tried to find a different means to stretch the gas supply. And I thought of oxygen, something you learn in school."
Gross said currently he has reduced fuel usage by 70 percent using the technology in his aluminum industrial boilers, which are similar but different from power plant boilers.
Illinois and Indiana public officials from both political parties, including U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Ind., who's a member of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, have voiced support for the burgeoning company, according to Schoenfield. Visclosky could not be reached for comment on this story due to his election campaign.
Leslie Combs, district director for U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D- Ill., said the congresswoman was "impressed" with Jupiter and "is working to get more government support for clean-coal technology."
An environmentally minded company, Jupiter is also involved with the Alliance to Save Energy and the Business Council for Sustainable Energy.
Gross, Schoenfield and Thomas Weber, the company's vice president, have been representatives of the nongovernmental organization at the United Nations Climate Change conferences.
[EXTRAS]Business Profile:Company: Jupiter Oxygen Corp.President and CEO: Dietrich GrossBusiness: Developing clean-coal technologyU.S. headquarters: Schiller Park, Ill.Plant: HammondWeb site: http://www.jupiteroxygen.com/Gross Revenue: $6.9 millionEmployees: 7