Never mind moon­shot re­search. So­lu­tions to cli­mate change are right in front of us, right now

Alberta Venture - - Front Page - By MICHAEL GAN­LEY

Au­drey Mas­caren­has says she has a ready- to- go tech­nol­ogy that can re­duce the car­bon and meth­ane emis­sions from the thou­sands of oil and gas flare stacks that dot the prov­ince, gen­er­ate emis­sions-free power from their waste heat and do it all cost-ef­fec­tively. Her Cal­gary-based com­pany, Questor, has long been in the busi­ness of sell­ing and rent­ing in­cin­er­a­tors to burn waste gas from oil and gas oper­a­tions. But the com­pany is now tak­ing the process one step fur­ther by us­ing the waste heat to gen­er­ate power on­site and, in the process, is de­liv­er­ing one of the small-scale, proven tech­nolo­gies that can help solve the cli­mate-change dilemma.

Questor is most ac­tive in the U.S., where, in re­sponse to poor air qual­ity, clean-air reg­u­la­tions force com­pa­nies to in­cin­er­ate waste gases to a 95 per cent ef­fi­ciency rate. Here at home, the up­take of the com­pany’s tech­nol­ogy has been slower. “In Al­berta right now we’re flar­ing and vent­ing about 140 mil­lion static cu­bic feet of gas a day,” she says. “If we fo­cused just on flar­ing, vent­ing and the waste gas go­ing through de­hy­dra­tors, we could re­duce Al­berta’s green­house gas emis­sions by 60 mega­tonnes at a cost of less than $1.70 per tonne.”

Mas­caren­has says there’s enough waste heat in the prov­ince to re­place all the coal-fired power the prov­ince plans to phase out by 2030, and that it comes with no emis­sions. “We also don’t strug­gle when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow, be­cause waste heat is com­ing off so many in­dus­trial pro­cesses that are run­ning 24/7.”

Questor’s tech­nol­ogy is sim­i­lar to a steam tur­bine, but runs at a much lower ­tem­per­a­ture. “The ad­van­tage of this cy­cle is it’s at low ­temp­er­a­ture and low pres­sure, so you don’t need a guy with a steam ticket,” Mas­caren­has says. That works well at the small, iso­lated sites that are so com­mon in the oil and gas in­dus­try, but it can be at­tached to any man­u­fac­tur­ing or in­dus­trial site that is gen­er­ates waste heat. Questor has, for in­stance, stud­ied the cool­ing tow­ers at En­erkem Al­berta’s waste-to-bio­fu­els fa­cil­ity in Ed­mon­ton. “On our pre­lim­i­nary work, we’re look­ing at three ­megawatts of power,” she says, enough to power 3,600 homes.

Mas­caren­has says deal­ing with waste gas – much of which is meth­ane – from the oil and gas in­dus­try is one of the big­gest op­por­tu­ni­ties the world has to make an im­pact on cli­mate change. “Meth­ane is 25 times worse than CO2 as a green­house gas,” she says. “When I cleanly com­bust it, I ac­tu­ally re­duce the ton­nage of green­house gas emis­sions nine­fold, and that’s with to­day’s tech. That’s with no more R&D hop­ing for a magic bul­let.”

Mas­caren­has says gov­ern­ments have fo­cused on mega-projects like Shell Canada’s $1.35-bil­lion Quest car­bon cap­ture and stor­age sys­tem at­tached to the Scot­ford re­fin­ery, and on moon­shot tech­nolo­gies that have yet to be de­vel­oped. She’s crit­i­cal of the Oc­to­ber an­nounce­ment by the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment to in­vest an­other $33 mil­lion to ad­vance meth­ane-re­duc­ing tech­nolo­gies through Emis­sions Re­duc­tion Al­berta (for­merly the Cli­mate Change and Emis­sions Man­age­ment Cor­po­ra­tion). “If we took that $33 mil­lion and said, ‘You know what, in­dus­try, we’ll in­cen­tivize you to take some early ac­tion, say 25 cents for ev­ery dol­lar spent,’ we would have been well on our way to meet the tar­get on emis­sion re­duc­tion,” she says. “In­stead, we’re tak­ing it to in­vest in tech­nolo­gies that haven’t been in­vented yet.” Bet­ter, she says, to sup­port the sim­ple, per­haps mun­dane op­tions star­ing them in the face. “We’re miss­ing the low-hang­ing fruit that would not only ad­dress cli­mate change but would help with air qual­ity in Al­berta,” she says.

Mas­caren­has would rather see gov­ern­ment bring in the same kind of tough rules around emis­sions, meth­ane, volatile or­ganic com­pounds and haz­ardous air pol­lu­tants that have been in­tro­duced in the U.S. “Com­pa­nies had to pay at­ten­tion to what they were emit­ting and if they weren’t in com­pli­ance they were fined,” she says. The clear rules al­low in­no­va­tors and ser­vice com­pa­nies to know what they have to de­sign to and, most im­por­tantly, com­pa­nies know the ex­pec­ta­tions.


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