A high-tech startup company’s suggestion that it could build a manufacturing facility somewhere in our depressed Southwest Virginia coal country is astoundingly welcome news.

According to a recent story by David McGee in the Bristol Herald Courier, this Pulaski, Virginia, firm is developing a filtration system that could efficiently remove pollutants from the emissions of coal-fired power plants and other sources, then package the filtered-out materials for recycling.

The process, which still must undergo extensive real-world testing, could have global clean-energy applications and ultimately create hundreds of jobs in far Southwest Virginia, the story noted.

Some of the jobs, if the process pans out and the plant does locate in our region, could pay up to $40 an hour, said Steve Critchfield, the firm’s president and CEO, in an exclusive interview with the Herald Courier.

The company, MOVA Technologies, is now building prototypes of its so-called panel-bed filters in preparation for final testing.

Founded in 2014, the company would produce filters that could safely remove and capture coal fly ash, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and carbon dioxide from power plant emissions, and suspend it in solid form for safe transport so it could be sold to companies that need those chemicals, Critchfield said. The process would capture both solid and gaseous pollutants.

MOVA recently received a $50,000 grant from the office of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam as part of the Commonwealth Research Commercialization Fund Awards for proof-of-concept testing, the newspaper said. The filtration system would require less space than current emissions-removal processes, and would be less expensive to operate than existing products, MOVA says.

Testing at Virginia Tech is expected to begin soon and be completed by early 2020, after which, company officials say, they hope to begin production at a facility they want to establish in Southwest Virginia.

“Once [the testing] done, it’s off to the races,’ Critchfield said. “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.”

He also noted that experts have said the process could be worth from $500 million to $1 billion in annual sales. That could bring up to 250 jobs for fabricators, with some of them potentially being hired and trained locally.

“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.

“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,’ he added. “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]. 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.”

Bringing this kind of high-tech industry to Southwest Virginia would be a giant step forward in rebuilding the coal-country economy and positioning our region for the future.

To that end, government agencies, economic development officials and our regional community colleges and technical schools should be doing all they can to promote and accommodate MOVA’s plans.

Landing this industry would help put Southwest Virginia on the map for more high-tech investment, and on the path to better jobs and a more secure life for its people.

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