Ramgen, Maker of CO2 Compression Technology, Aims to Fight Climate Change
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and compress it down nine-fold without any need for intercooling, Jewett says. Its system, which runs turbines at speeds up to Mach 2.4, generates a lot more heat, more than 400 degrees Fahrenheit. But that’s hot enough that it can be useful, Jewett says. The Ramgen turbines throw off steam that can be turned into electricity, Jewett said.
What does this kind of technology cost? An average coal-fired power plant would need to spend $50 to $100 million just for the air compression piece of a carbon capture and sequestration system, which probably would add up to $200 million for each plant, Jewett says. There are more than 600 of those plants in the U.S. alone, so the price tag for taxpayers could get big in a hurry. Capturing, compressing, and injecting all this carbon dioxide underground will be so expensive that it will likely raise the average home electricity bill by 20 percent per month, Jewett says. When I asked if this bill will run into the trillions, he didn’t try to correct that notion. “It’s a huge number,” he says.
Ramgen isn’t far enough along in development to offer firm price quotes on its machines, but it should lower capital costs by half, and lower operating costs by half because the company can generate some electricity that can be sold onto the grid, Jewett says.
The technology is now in a demonstration stage, Jewett says. The $20 million in federal stimulus money is being pooled with $25 million from Houston, TX-based Dresser-Rand (NYSE: DRC) the giant maker of rotating air compressor equipment for industrial customers, including oil and gas producers. Dresser-Rand, a company with 6,400 employees and support centers in 140 countries, formed a partnership with Ramgen last November to co-develop the shock wave air compressors. It called Ramgen’s technology “game-changing,” in a statement. As part of the deal, Dresser-Rand obtained an option to acquire Ramgen, although terms aren’t being disclosed, Jewett says.
It will take time to build up the demonstration site at a Dresser-Rand facility in New York. But Ramgen expects that site to be up and running, and able to provide an answer by the first half of 2012 on whether the technology is ready for prime time in a commercial setting, Jewett says. Ramgen still only has 27 employees, so getting the stimulus money and Dresser-Rand financing is significant, because it means Ramgen has the resources, and expertise of big organizations, to be able to get the demonstration project going in two years instead of four, Jewett says. The company is already moving quickly to tap its network of sophisticated machine shops, including people who know how to work with turbines, many of whom live nearby in the Puget Sound region because of their relationships to Boeing, Jewett says.
Looking around the Ramgen office before leaving, I noticed a lot of the employees are avid bicyclists who brought their bikes into their offices, including Jewett. He told me it’s more because he wants to maintain his health, and I shouldn’t read too much into it as a sign of his environmental bona fides. But he didn’t try to downplay the idea that his company has a chance to do some good by providing enabling technology for a national strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Even though his company doesn’t usually make headlines like renewable fuels do, it could be a much bigger part of making this a more sustainable planet.
“We are right in the middle of it,” Jewett says. “We have 100 projects from around the world that have called to say if you’ve got it [efficient carbon compression], then we want it. Our task is to deliver.”