Making a Difference through Clean Combustion Solutions
Questor Technology offers an environmentally friendly alternative to burning waste gas in open flares. No odour or smoke is released during the process—only water and carbon dioxide…
The company’s special incinerators combust waste gas at 99.99 percent efficiency without emitting any particulate matter, poly-nuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), or unburned hydrocarbons. By eliminating the soot particles and harmful by-products that open flares generate, Questor’s solution positively impacts human health and the environment. Moreover, the heat produced can be used to generate power, allowing clients to harness an overlooked source of energy rather than wasting it.
Since Business in Focus profiled the Calgary-based business in March 2013, Questor Technology has made an exciting acquisition that will boost the business’ energy producing capabilities. CEO Audrey Mascarenhas spoke with us once again to catch us up on this, and other, new developments.
In 2014, Questor Technology bought the Florida-based company ClearPower, which specializes in converting waste heat to power. “Of course in our combustion business we generate lots of heat, so it fits really nicely with our core business,” Ms. Mascarenhas explains. “When we looked at how much gas is being flared globally—and it is around 14 billion standard cubic feet a day—we always thought that there was an opportunity to do something smart with the heat. That was really the premise behind making the ClearPower purchase. This was an enormous opportunity globally to not only improve air quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but to supply clean, cheap energy for communities from a product that is currently being wasted. This [capability] also differentiates us from our competitors [because] there are lots of people who can burn waste gas, but they don’t do it as well.”
The acquisition opens a number of new possibilities for Questor Technology. “It allowed us to diversify. The opportunities around waste heat to power are even bigger than just oil and gas or waste gas. We have so many industrial processes that generate heat that actually go to waste right now, so to be able to pick up that heat and convert it to power has a lot of value.”
Questor Technology opened a new office in Florida in order to build on the foundation that ClearPower had already established there. “We spent the last two or three years in the R&D phase and we are well poised now to bring that product to market and commercialize it. We are set up nicely in Florida to do that.”
The new solution provides an exciting opportunity for clients as well as for Questor Technology. “Power is an additional operating cost for a lot of sites, so if we can provide additional power, reduce the cost from a waste heat stream, and do it effectively, that is a win-win for both our clients and ourselves.” The environment also wins. “The other great thing about waste heat to power is it actually comes with no emissions. So as we are looking to reduce our carbon footprint and move more and more to this low carbon economy, this is an enormous opportunity from an energy efficiency point of view to have an impact on emissions and climate change.”
Questor Technology focuses on generating heat from a lower temperature than most competitors. “Our focus is on the lower grade heat that typically gets wasted,” Ms. Mascarenhas explains. “There is a lot of opportunity to generate steam with a higher temperature waste heat, but a lot of time this lower temperature waste heat gets ignored. Our technology focuses on this lower temperature area in the 90 degree Celsius to 150 degree Celsius [range]. It is a closed system that just keeps recycling and, unlike steam, it is safe. It is a lower temperature and pressure so you don’t need workers with special training or steam certificates. It lends itself quite nicely to developing countries where they are flaring or they have waste heat.”
In addition to the new Florida location, Questor Technology recently opened a new facility in Colorado. The state is an ideal location for the company’s forward-thinking solutions. “A lot of their oil and gas activity is happening close to people’s houses, so they have focused a lot on emissions and have legislated equipment like ours. So that created an enormous opportunity.”
Questor’s rental business has gained a strong foothold in the Colorado market. With the industry under strain, renting rather than buying helps clients stay ahead. “We have significantly grown our rental business,” Ms. Mascarenhas says. “In this environment of low oil and gas prices, it has been a challenge for our clients. So being able to grow our rental fleet has created a great win-win for us and our clients.” Clients only purchase the bottom of the unit, which they need long-term, and rent the top portion of the unit, which they only need short-term. “When they finish with the flow back, which is usually about six weeks, we take the top off and move it to another site. So it is very, very capital efficient. We have reduced their cost by about 30 percent.”
Questor’s solution provides a viable, environmentally friendly option—so why isn’t the technology getting more attention globally? “We are in love with looking for the magic bullet and looking for something sexy and we are missing all of these easy things that could have a big impact,” Ms. Mascarenhas explains. “People are so focused on finding the perfect solution that they often miss a good one. We have this misconception that we have to get to the point where we are not burning fossil fuel any more—and maybe eventually down the road we will get to that—but this is an issue that [needs to be addressed] right now. So why wouldn’t you take some of your quick hits? Right now globally, 25 percent of the world’s GHG emissions are coming from methane we are flaring. That has an impact not only on people’s health, but on the air quality. And it is an enormous waste of energy. So we have a nice quick hit here to meet a lot of our sustainability goals.”
To put things in perspective, Ms. Mascarenhas points out that methane is “25 times worse” for the environment than CO2, so releasing CO2 rather than methane could make a substantial difference—despite the fact that Questor’s process still involves burning fossil fuels. “Over a 100-year period, if I cleanly combust a molecule of methane instead of releasing it into the atmosphere, I reduce GHG emissions nine-fold on a tonnage basis,” she explains.
Questor offers a solution that is both effective and commercially viable, which is key to long-term success. “We have got to realize that there are great solutions that do make business sense that can get us well on our way to meeting our climate change goals. I think we have got to stop chasing the sexy and put in a plan that says, ‘I’ve got some quick hits, I’ve got some medium term things, and I’ve got some moon shots that I’ve got to pay attention to.’ But in reality there isn’t going to be one magic solution that solves all our problems. I truly believe that it is going to be how we collaborate and bring all of these ideas together that actually provides the complete solution.”
Ms. Macarenhas and her team are proud to be at the forefront of developing this solution. “We can all work together and collaborate to change our narrative so that we start to have this common goal to get to a future that meets all of our sustainability goals. And we can do that by rolling up our sleeves, sitting at the table, and all asking, ‘how can we create better solutions?’ How can we have a better future?’”