Bicarb Cleans Up Stack Gas Emissions

The same baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) sold in grocery stores and used for a 101 things around the home is also one of the best solutions to scrub emissions from coal-fired power plants. Purification of flue gas emissions using sodium bicarbonate has always been recognized as a highly effective process for removing SO2, SO3, NOx and heavy metal compounds from flue gas. However, sodium bicarbonate scrubbing has 3 serious drawbacks:

1. The cost of sodium bicarbonate is excessive;
2. The resulting byproduct of the sodium bicarbonate SOx reaction (sodium sulfate) has limited economic value;
3. Sodium sulfate disposal is expensive and poses a significant environmental problem.

Despite its recognition as a superior scrubbing technology, these prohibitive operating issues have kept flue gas scrubbing with sodium bicarbonate from realizing any significant market share.

Airborne Pollution Control Inc., a Calgary based company, has developed a solution to the challenges of sodium scrubbing. The Airborne process begins with the injection of bicarbonate into the flue, where it reacts with and captures the pollutants. The key to Airborne’s patented process is its ability to regenerate the “residue” (it is converted back into sodium bicarbonate that can be reused for flue gas scrubbing), and at the same time, to make a high-grade fertilizer byproduct.

The Airborne process eliminates the disposal problem, improves the economics and most importantly it does a superior job of addressing the multiple pollutants inherent in flue gas emissions. Additionally, Airborne has a proprietary process to granulate their fertilizer. Airborne’s thin-film pan granulation technology makes the fertilizer more stable, shippable, blendable, customizable and ultimately more valuable.

Together with the Babcock & Wilcox, US Filter HPD Systems, and Icon Construction, Airborne is operating an integrated 5 MW demonstration facility to showcase the Airborne Process. The plant is located in Kentucky at LG&E Energy Corp’s Ghent generating facility.

Last year DOE received 36 proposals for projects valued at more than US$5 billion in the first round of President Bush’s Clean Coal Power Initiative. The Airborne Process was 1 of only 8 successful proposals, and was selected for US$31 million in funding for the implementation of Airborne’s multi-pollutant control process.

| Clean Coal Power Initiative Round One
| “Commercial Demonstration of the Airborne Process” [PDF-495KB] __

In short, this means that high sulfur coal can be burned in an environmentally friendly and economically efficient manner. The Airborne process removes multiple pollutants and it meets or exceeds all current and pending environmental requirements for SO2, SO3, NOx and mercury. For the first time pollution abatement becomes an economically rewarding investment for the power producer.

Over the next 5 years, Airborne has conservatively targeted the application of its technology to 10 new and existing coal-fired electrical generation plants. This conservative target represents less than 1% of the global available market and translates to a total installed capacity of approximately 7500 Megawatts (MW) out of approximately 800,000 MW of coal-fired power generated world-wide.

One concern with the production of fertilizer byproducts is maintaining a balance between the supply and demand for sulfur based fertilizers, a demand which is predicted to grow as sulfur emissions are reduced at the source. Airborne has a worldwide agreement with the Potash Corp of Saskatchewan Inc. (PCS), the world’s largest manufacturer and distributor of fertilizer products. Airborne has a worldwide marketing agreement with PCS whereby PCS will market the various fertilizer outputs, providing Airborne with access to worldwide markets and providing PCS with a unique addition to their portfolio of fertilizer products.

Airborne has made a major investment in the development and demonstration of this patented process and is seeking equity investment partners to take it to the next level.

Contact: Leonard Seidman
T: 403.253.7887 Ext: 310

“Multi Pollutant Control with the Airborne Process” [ 1.1 MB PDF] (… details the experimental and analytical results of a lab and pilot scale 0.3 MW coal fired combustion test facility and the progression to an integrated 5 MW facility)

2002 Fuel Cell Seminar

Fuel Cell Seminar
Nov 18-21, Palm Springs, CA

The Fuel Cell Seminar has been held every two years* since 1978. Until recently, it’s been essentially a scientific forum. The 2000 event (in Portland OR) saw a major change into a full blown trade show. That trend continued this time, with 50% larger attendance (3000) and many more than twice the number of exhibitors (125). The event is very international, with huge contingents from Europe and Asia. For the first time, simultaneous translation in Japanese was provided. (*From now on, they’re going annual–the next one will be in Miami, Nov ’03.)

The mood this time, however, was distinctly different. Recall that January 2000 started with a runaway boom in stock prices and excitement over fuel cells. By November, that surge was still strong, and the event had the feel of a celebration. In contrast, this year the mood was almost grim, or at least very subdued. Beyond the effects of the wider economic doldrums, the reality has set in that cost and performance of fuel cell technology just aren’t there yet. Fuel cells are still years from being ready for a meaningful ramp-up in commercial market penetration. Investment bankers and venture capitalists, who were very much a presence in 2000, were few and far between this time.

A great many of the exhibitors were suppliers to the industry, offering membranes, catalysts, pumps and valves, test equipment, etc. Thus the comment that people were there to sell to each other, not to sell fuel cells to real customers. (The only customers appear to be governments–see below.) It is possible to spin this positively–companies like 3-M and Agilent wouldn’t be bothered if they didn’t see a big opportunity down the road. The large attendance could be viewed in the same light. The saying goes that it’s a matter of when, not if [that fuel cells will be a practical reality on a large commercial scale].

Keynote Address
S. David Freeman was blunt (as usual) in his keynote address–fuel cells have not achieved financial viability; the fuel cell car is a huge publicity stunt–not yet a practical reality; and distributed generation (via fuel cells) doesn’t have the political appeal that renewable energy enjoys. He urged the industry to pay more attention to the question of fuels for fuel cells, and suggested that it’s in everyone’s interest to deploy hydrogen burning IC engines, to build up the hydrogen infrastructure independent of and in parallel with fuel cell development.

Four keynote lectures followed:
– DOE Fossil Energy Fuel Cell Program (Victor Der for George Rudins)
FE spends $250 million/year for stationary fuel cell RD&D, mostly on SECA and FC-Hybrids. SECA is the initiative whose goal is $400/kw planar solid oxide fuel cell. Contracts have been awarded to four industry teams to pursue various technical strategies.

– Stationary Perspective (Jerry Leitman, Fuel Cell Energy)
Stationary plants are commercially available today, and offer dramatic efficiency and emissions improvements over engines and combined cycle plants.

– Transportation Perspective (Andrew Schell, for Ferdinand Panik, DaimlerChrysler)
Fuel cells in transportation are a necessity to gain the “freedoms” (i.e. of choice, from emissions, from oil dependence, etc). Applications will ramp up over the next 7 years to become truly commercial. New fuel insfrastructures must be deployed. (In January, DOE replaced the PNGV with FreedomCAR, concentrating on hydrogen and fuel cells

– Portable Perspective (Laryy DuBois, SRI)
There is no Moore’s Law for batteries. The price paid per kw is high compared with large scale power, creating an opportunity for fuel cells. Drivers include longer runtime, fast recharge, unlimited recharge, etc. A dozen companies at least plan to be selling products sometime in the next 3 years. Concentration is on direct methanol or PEM, with at least one SOFC to run on butane. The competition isn’t standing still, with advances in batteries and ultracaps, as well as work on nano-heat engines and RF scavenging. (I have a pdf of this presentation-2MB)

– Fuel Perspective (Don Huberts, Shell Hydrogen)
Stationary, Transportation and Portable each have different requirements for refueling infrastructure, and no single answer will suffice. There needs to be a mix of technologies, primary energy sources, and delivery means.

Program Overviews
A series of presentations outlined programs and budgets deveoted to fuel cell developments funded by the European Commission, Germany, Japan, and the US (DOE). Strong long term commitments were evident, with expressed goals of meeting Kyoto requirements and reducing oil dependence through hydrogen and fuel cells. $100s of millions are budgeted. Notably, they all talk in terms of gradual progress up the adoption curve, with the bulk of activity over the next 6-10 years in demos and projects.

In addition to over 230 poster papers, parallel sessions included presentations on PEM R&D, SOFC, Commercialization and Demonstrations, Fuel Processing and DMFC/Portable. Many of the papers were highly technical and specialized, while others were little more than general overviews for companies and programs (some bordering on infommercials).

Reflecting on the general state of the industry, governments appear to be the main customers for fuel cell companies, along with the big carmakers who are doing demos, partnerships, and their own development programs (GM was curiously quiet at this event). Otherwise, it just seems to be a swarm of similar sounding programs, and it’s nearly impossible to see any real differentiation that would indicate a possible eventual winner.

This is especially true in PEM, and also to some extent in SOFC. Fuel Cell Energy, of course, is the only US molten carbonate company, and they are just introducing a new and improved series of models into their 12 MW order backlog. They are “commercial”, but price remains an issue, as well as perceived technical risk on the part of buyers (the US Navy does seem to be keen on them for shipboard use). Meanwhile, companies like Plug and Nuvera have quietly stopped talking about residential.

As the long slow march of this technology continues, maybe the traditional approaches are just too difficult. Almost everyone seems to be pursuing the same old stacks with bolts around the edge, and the same handful of reformer technologies. Meanwhile, a number of “stealth” developments are underway, out of the spotlight, by people who are thinking different. They may just come along with novel new approaches that break through the age-old dilemmas of cost, manufacturability, and performance. One is almost tempted to think that if something is being presented at conferences, it’s not cutting edge, and it’s not the answer. (And it’s a safe bet that companies that do make presentations are probably not telling us about their really good stuff.)

Here is an example of such a possible “end-run”: Microcell Corp had a booth showing a very different configuration for a fuel cell system. Very few details were given, but they did tell me their cost goal is less than $100/kw. The cells are long thin hollow tubes (less than 1 mm in diameter) whose wall consists of the anode, electrolyte, and cathode, and which can be made by extrusion. The cells can be arrayed in bundles in a tube and header configuration, and high power densities are predicted. The company is in the 2nd year of a 3 year ATP grant, with cofunding investment by Pepco.

Ceramic Fuel Cell Ltd, of Australia, presented its new all ceramic SOFC stack technology which looks very promising. Temperature cycling is the big issue for SOFC’s and their latest set of innovations have resulted in a simple rugged design.

References and Publications:

Abstracts of the 2002 Fuel Cell Seminar–the book is 2 ” thick; also on a CD, available for purchase ($55 and $30, respectively). Contact:
Catherine Porterfield

European Integrated Hydrogen Project
White paper: “European Transport Policy for 2010 : time to decide ”

New releases (at the seminar):
2002 Annual Progress Report, H2, FC and Infrastructure Technologies Programs, 400 page book, or CD. Also online at

The new 6th edition of the DOE Fuel Cell Handbook (Oct 2002) was handed out at the Seminar. This comprehensive textbook (450 pages) can be ordered on CD at

Overview of Portable Power
The German company Smart Fuel Cell is among the many contenders in portable power, and appear to be making good progress towards commercialization. They were listed among Scientific American’s 50 Business Leaders (Dec issue)

They cite this helpful overview of the market on their website:

[web tips]
— The NETL website has its fuel cell materials under the Strategic Center for Natural Gas. Look under “End-Use” to find fuel cells.

— The DOD has a website which details a major residential PEM demo program, as well as the Army’s Fuel Cell Test & Evaluation Center (FCTEC), operated by Concurrent Technologies Corporation (CTC) in Johnstown, PA

By coincidence, this article appeared right after the Seminar

More Rationalization Of Fuel-Cell Companies Expected
By Lynne Olver, Dow Jones Newswires — Nov 25, 2002

VANCOUVER — The fuel-cell industry is entering an “important phase” in which more corporate consolidation can be expected, according to Pierre Rivard, president and chief executive of Hydrogenics Corp. (HYGS). Rivard said the PC and telecom industries tend to have a few dominant players, and he expects a similar pattern in the fuel-cell business over the next three years.

“It’s typical that, post-consolidation, you might see two, three, perhaps four emerging, larger-sized companies and to me that’s very healthy,” Rivard told Dow Jones.

. . . . The article goes on to describe Plug Power’s acquisition of H Power, and Global Thermoelectric’s interest in finding a buyer or major partner for its SOFC business.,,BT_CO_20021125_005129-search,00.html?collection=autowire%2F30day&vql_string=olver%3Cin%3E%28article%2Dbody%29

Fuel Cell info; DOE DP Program

In the Jan 23 UFTO Note about the Fuel Cell Seminar, several sources of information on Fuel cells were provided. Here is some additional clarification of how four separate publications are related.

Fuel Cells 2000 is an activity of the Breakthrough Technologies Institute (BTI), a non-profit organization formed to promote the development and early commercialization of fuel cells and related pollution-free, efficient energy generation, storage and utilization technologies and fuels.

They publish “Fuel Cell Connection”, a monthly sponsored by USFCC, NFCRC, and NETL
(subscribe at
This will also get you the quarterly “Fuel Cell Catalyst”, (the Winter 2001 issue arrived this afternoon) and access to back issues:

Fuel Cells 2000 also publishes and distributes its own monthly “Technology Update”, summarizing recent events in the fuel cell industry

And, they publish “Fuel Cell Quarterly” — subscription requires a paid contribution of $25 or more.

All of the above mentioned organizations have extensive websites with lots of documents, links, lists, etc.


The January 2001 issue of Fuel Cell Connection arrived today, with 28 separate items. Here are two that are noteworthy.

9. NREL Establishes Center for Distributed Power
National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has established a new “Distributed Energy Resources Center” to conduct research and provide information needed to efficiently develop additional power supplies from small, decentralized generating units. Research on fuel cells and microturbines will fall under the “Hydrogen and Natural Gas Systems” section of the center.

10. Guide to Doing Business with DOE’s National Laboratories Now Available
The Laboratory Coordinating Council of the DOE has prepared a guide to “Doing Business with the Laboratories of the Laboratory Coordinating Council. (LLC)” The guide is available online through the DOE Office of Industrial Technologies.

Even though the “LLC” is focused specifically on the Office of Industrial Technologies, this new document appears to be a good new resource about the whole subject.


Speaking of Distributed Power and NREL, the DOE program is really taking off.

On December 4, 2000, DOE released its “Strategic Plan for Distributed Energy Resources,” (dated September 2000) which outlines a national effort to develop clean, reliable and affordable distributed energy technologies over the next two decades. The goal of the plan is eventually to allow industrial, commercial and residential customers to choose from an array of distributed energy resource products and services. The Strategic Plan will focus initially on developing “next-generation” distributed energy technologies and addressing the institutional and regulatory barriers that interfere with the development of dis-tributed energy resources. The DOE also outlined six separate strategic areas it plans to address in the near future.

“The Strategic Plan for Distributed Energy Resources” can be found on the Internet at
(Generally thislast website is the one to pay attention to.)

The DP Program Review meeting was just held the week before last in Washington. Very soon I hope to be able to pass along detailed notes from the NREL folks who are handling the website.

CO2 Sequestration – DOE Resources

CO2 Sequestration – DOE Resources
(One of a series of UFTO Notes based in part on the recent visit to Los Alamos National Laboratory)

The Dept of Energy is very active in this arena, and is exploring a wide range of approaches, both near and long term. Here are links to various DOE and lab websites which offer a number of reports, studies, plans, and other information:


Advanced Process Concepts for Carbon Management Workshop

A invitational workshop was held last March, to identify and assess a number of advanced concepts for carbon management and to obtain industrial support for the most promising concepts. [Unfortunately, very few utility representatives attended.]

The workshop was sponsored by the Center for Applied Research in Carbon Management [CARCM, a joint effort between the National Energy Technology Lab (NETL) and Los Alamos National Lab (LANL)]. It was hosted by Texas Utilities (TXU) in Dallas on March 20 & 21, 2000 with 33 participants. Complete details and copies of the presentations are available at:


The “Summary of Breakout Sessions” provides a good overview of the conference conclusions.

Abstract: Innovative thinkers from national labs, universities, government, and industry were brought together in a workshop to develop a working definition of advanced/novel carbon sequestration concepts, assess the technical and financial risks associated with several examples, and identify new examples. Four breakout sessions discussed carbon dioxide extraction from air, coupling energy production with carbon sequestration, biological/terrestrial approaches, and by-products.

R. Tom Baker, Los Alamos National Lab