A Pulaski, Virginia, firm is developing carbon filtration technology that could have global clean energy applications and ultimately create hundreds of jobs in far Southwest Virginia.
MOVA Technologies, which was established in 2014, plans to produce panel-bed filters that would separate out both particulate matter and gaseous pollutants, like those coming from coal-burning power plants or chemical plants.
The company is completing prototype fabrication and about to embark on final testing, Steve Critchfield, the firm’s president and CEO, said Wednesday in an exclusive interview with the Bristol Herald Courier.
The filters are expected to capture coal fly ash, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and carbon dioxide and suspend it in a solid sorbent material for safe transport — so it could be sold to companies that need those chemicals, he said.
“This is a technique that can capture carbon. Most of the carbon capture is by sequestration where they pump it into old coal seams. They really don’t capture it, they move it somewhere else,” Critchfield said. “This will capture carbon in the solid sorbent. It will capture mercury, SOx [sulfur oxides], NOx [nitrogen oxides], and you take the solid sorbents wherever you want. You can extract or recycle the carbon and send the sorbents back.”
MOVA Technologies recently received a $50,000 grant from Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam as part of the Commonwealth Research Commercialization Fund Awards for proof-of-concept testing.
Its patents and process were developed by the late Arthur Squires, an engineer who worked on the Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb. Squires later spent more than 20 years working in fossil fuel technology, including developing ways to reduce emissions from coal, at Virginia Tech.
In essence, what Squires did was create a way to capture the pollutants with none left over because they are separated and can be distilled and sold back to industry, Critchfield said.
This type of carbon filtration technology using solid sorbents wasn’t projected to be implemented until 2030, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, but Critchfield said his company intends to bring it to the market next year.
The filter system is expected to require less space than current emission removal technology and be less expensive to operate than existing products. The use of the panel-bed technology will allow individual silo capture of the emissions and allow for easier extraction for resale on the commercial market, according to a company document.
Experts who reviewed the preliminary technology determined it could be worth between $500 million and $1 billion in annual sales, Critchfield said.
A Lynchburg fabrication firm is currently completing the stainless steel prototype models that are expected to be delivered later this week.
Proof-of-concept testing at Virginia Tech is expected to begin soon and be completed by the first quarter of 2020. From there, company officials hope to begin production and intend for the facility to be located in Southwest Virginia.
“Once that’s [testing] done, it’s off to the races. Then we start talking to chemical companies or a coal company, it could be the federal government, it could be the state of Virginia, to bring in the next large investment to scale this thing up toward commercialization,” Critchfield said.
That’s where this region fits in, he said.
“I want to get that fabrication somewhere in far Southwest Virginia where we can have these filters made — Wise, Norton, Lebanon, wherever,” Critchfield said. “Those jobs will pay about $40 an hour.”
Critchfield said the company will likely hire up to 250 fabricators and plans to begin meeting this fall with the state and localities.
“We’re going to start talking to partners who may be interested in this technology and talking to people where we can locate this plant to do the fabrication. It could all go to Lynchburg because there is a company there, but I would like to put some of the jobs in Southwest [Virginia],” he said. “We’re going to start looking and — when we get the proof-of-concept [testing] done in February or March — we are already well underway figuring out where to put the plant.”
They are also looking into a possible location in Europe.
Critchfield said Squires loved his adopted region, stretching from Blacksburg to Knoxville, Tennessee, and wants to do something to help it thrive.
“One thing I’m excited about is these fabrication jobs will pay enough to entice people from Southwest Virginia back who are now on oil rigs and pipelines,” Critchfield said. “I’m hoping this will be a major step toward stopping the exodus of people from Southwest Virginia. If we can put these kinds of jobs in, we’ll pull these people back in from Louisiana and Oklahoma plus keep people here, or people can learn it and move here.”
He said the company also wants to involve this region’s three community colleges.
Mike Quillen, chairman of GO Virginia’s Region One Council, founder and former CEO of Alpha Natural Resources and an adviser to MOVA Technologies, said the technology appears promising.
“I’ve seen my fair share of these [projects], and this one certainly has some intriguing technological possibilities,” Quillen said. “The impressive thing is a lot of these don’t get to this commercial testing phase. A lot of these things, you have an idea, but when you look at it in the marketplace, [you] find out we can’t produce it for what the competition is.”
He said the technology lends itself to much more than fossil fuel power plants, including chemical plants, paper plants and military applications — anywhere there is an emission.
“This proof-of-concept testing is important,” he said. “They’ve probably got to narrow it down a little bit. They’re so enthusiastic about where this could go. I think the market study will help them focus on areas they could actually be competitive.”
Quillen said the technology could, if developed, help address climate change concerns and provide jobs in this area.
“One reason I want to stay close to it, if it starts to move, if there is any opportunity to do any kind of manufacturing or expansion or employment, to move that down into the region — particularly in the coalfields, if that’s possible,” Quillen said, adding “It is really, really early. They’ve gotten through a lot of the research. This testing will really tell if it can go forward.”