The Benefits of Clean Combustion

Questor Technology

Questor Technology strives to dispose of unwanted gas produced by a variety of industries in the healthiest, most environmentally friendly way possible. Typically, waste gas is burned in open flares. We’ve all seen it and cringed – heavy, foul smelling, black smoke belching from stacks and into the air we breathe. The phenomenon is depressingly widespread. “Waste gas happens from so many industries,” CEO Audrey Mascarenhas explains. But it doesn’t have to, she insists.

Her company’s special incinerators combust waste gas at 99.99 percent efficiency without releasing any particulate matter, poly-nuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), or unburned hydrocarbons. No odour or smoke is released. In fact, the only thing produced by Questor’s combustion process is water and carbon dioxide. Furthermore, the heat produced during this process can actually be used to generate power. “We are helping our clients not only combust [gas] cleanly, but we also create an opportunity to use this energy instead of wasting it,” Ms. Mascarenhas summarizes.

Clean combustion technology has the potential to alleviate a number of health and environmental concerns. “Being able to combust cleanly is so important,” Ms. Mascarenhas insists. “A lot of people don’t realize this, but globally the World Bank estimates that about 14 billion cubic feet [of waste gas] gets flared every day. That’s a phenomenal amount.” The soot particles and by-products released from these flares may have long lasting negative effects on human health and air quality, as well as contribute to climate change. “So being able to take waste gas and combust it at 99.99 percent efficiency and only put out carbon dioxide and water is an enormous opportunity to have a [positive] impact on climate change, air quality, and people’s health.”

Add to this the potential to generate power, and the possibilities are endless. Instead of letting that energy literally go up in smoke, “we can heat buildings, we can heat water, we could put some of that heat in a greenhouse and grow food.” Indeed, the energy savings could be astronomical. “The 14 billion cubic feet of gas being flared every day translates, from an energy perspective, to two and half million barrels of oil every day that we are wasting. That is a big number. That is what gets us energized here. We think this is a nice win-win. It makes business sense. It makes environmental sense. It really is doing the right thing.”

Questor Technology isn’t the only company offering clean combustion. “There are other people doing it,” Ms. Mascarenhas explains. “But I think where we set ourselves apart is we aren’t doing it like everybody else.” One advantage is that the company is stocked with industry insiders who bring a wealth of experience and understanding to every situation. “The beauty of the team at Questor is that we have all come from the oil and gas industry,” Ms. Mascarenhas points out. She spent 17 years working for Gulf Oil, a typical resume for the management at Questor. “So when clients come to us it isn’t, ‘I have no idea what you are talking about, but here is an incinerator,’” she laughs. “We really work with them and we custom design to make sure that we are meeting the problems that they are trying to solve. And I think that helps set us apart from all our competitors.”

The company’s top quality equipment is also a key to its success. “The reality is that we are doing something that generates tons of heat so it is not an easy thing to do,” Ms. Mascarenhas explains. Reliable, easy to use equipment is vital. In this industry, there are no second chances, so getting it right the first time is crucial. “With the new tough rules in the States, for example, if you don’t do it well your facility gets shut down,” Ms. Mascarenhas points out.

Questor is doing it well, and the proof is in the numbers. In 2010 the company’s revenue in the United States was around $670,000. The very next year it skyrocketed to $3.7 million. Perhaps most telling is the fact that the 450 percent growth in revenue came entirely through word of mouth. There are no company offices in the U.S. and there has been no marketing there. Instead, the team relies on a stellar reputation and the positive buzz that surrounds what it is doing. “A lot of clients have picked us as best practice because our equipment does work well, their field guys like it, and it is easy to use,” Ms. Mascarenhas explains.

With so many positives, why isn’t clean combustion technology more widespread? Ms. Mascarenhas believes it is simply a matter of time. “I think it is slowly starting to catch on, but a lot of times people won’t do things unless someone pushes them to,” she says. “Sometimes it is easy to just say, ‘well, that is the way I did it last time,’ and continue to do things the way you’ve always done them.” Ms. Mascarenhas likens the situation to when the horse and buggy gave way to modern automobiles. It takes time for people to digest change, and it also takes time for the technology to become widely available.

With a little effort, however, she believes clean combustion will become the global norm. She thinks that the industry may need a little push, however. “A lot of times people won’t do things unless someone pushes them to, whether it is a protest from landowners against fracking or flaring, or whether it is regulation.” But, the push is out there and it is increasing. “I think people are starting to realize that we really do make business sense.”

Ms. Mascarenhas points to the “very tough rules in the U.S. on emissions” as an example. “They have set some tough rules that require performance so we are nicely placed in the U.S. to help clients. We are seeing the same thing in Europe. And I think rules [will] start to get tougher around protecting air quality as people realize that what you are breathing has a big impact on human health and what you are spending on health care dollars.” The increased concern around air quality will also “start to create the opportunities to do something useful with the waste heat.” Ms. Mascarenhas says that this has already happened in Europe, largely because of widespread incentives. “In Germany for example, waste doesn’t go to a landfill, it is all taken to large incineration plants that combust the waste, take the heat, and generate power. It isn’t farfetched. It is being done. I think the struggles here are [because] we haven’t had to. We don’t pay a lot for energy so sometimes it is easy to waste it.”

When clean combustion is implemented here, it often has startling results. A project that the team completed in Northern Alberta is one good example. Questor Technology’s client needed to dispose of waste gas, but the entire community was up in arms over the potential harm that can come from flared gas. Some landowners had even resorted to sabotaging the local facility. “This company really struggled with how they would proceed with this project. And they managed to come to an agreement with the community that they would put one of our incinerators in,” Ms. Mascarenhas recalls. Intense monitoring was also part of the deal.

After a year of carefully recording the air quality inside each home surrounding the clean combustion site, the data was extremely positive. So positive, in fact, that the homeowners wrote a letter of thanks to the company. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) interviewed one of these homeowners and he remarked, “If I had known then what I know now, I wouldn’t have objected.”

And the positive result wasn’t just environmental and health related. The company ended up ahead financially as well. “They paid out their capital investment in four months because they used 80 percent less fuel gas using our equipment than they would have with a flare,” Ms. Mascarenhas reports. “There is so much value in doing the right thing. Talk about win-win.”

October 23, 2017, 1:53 AM EDT

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