Ramgen, Maker of CO2 Compression Technology, Aims to Fight Climate Change

7/6/09Follow @xconomy

Forget renewable fuels for a minute. If the world is ever going to get serious about avoiding a global warming catastrophe, then we need to capture carbon dioxide being spewed from power plants into the atmosphere and bury it underground, at least according to one school of thought. The technology to make this practical on a grand scale doesn’t exist, but Ramgen Power Systems, a small company in Bellevue, WA, full of aerospace engineers, says it has learned some things from jet engines that could turn this vision into reality.

Ramgen arrived on my radar in May, when it secured $20 million in federal stimulus money for its carbon compression technology. U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu cited the company as a leader in the effort to make coal-fired power plants cleaner for the environment. This technology is complicated stuff, and the implications are potentially profound, so I visited Ramgen CEO Doug Jewett at his office last week to learn about it in greater depth.

The problem Ramgen is facing is so big, it needs to first be placed in proper context. To avoid melting of polar ice caps that would flood many highly-populated coastal areas around the world, the U.S. and the world needs to cut its carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050, from baseline readings in 1990, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Where to cut? That’s hard to say. Most of the energy Americans use goes to four primary sectors—generating electricity, transportation, industry, and residential and commercial use. So to reduce carbon emissions, people could switch to electric cars, buses, trucks, and electric heating and cooling in homes and offices, Jewett says. That means there’s going to be a lot more demand for electricity. And where does that come from? More than half of the nation’s electricity, and the leading source of air pollution, comes from the same source—coal. That isn’t likely to change anytime soon, Jewett says, so the real question is how to continue burning coal and natural gas to meet demand for electricity, without causing an environmental disaster.

“Most of what people are talking about with renewable involves incremental decreases in carbon emissions,” Jewett says. “Carbon capture and storage is key if we’re going to be effective at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

“It’s very troubling,” he says.

OK, so how does Ramgen fit into this picture? The company was founded … Next Page »

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