How Execs at 30 Top Cleantech Firms Expect to Make Lots of $$ (Part 4 of 7) ‘Guillotine Hanging Over’ Utilities that Use Coal

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Rumors of coal’s imminent death are greatly exaggerated. The reality is, coal will be a vital fuel for electricity generation for decades to come, and beaucoup money will be made by companies that know how to use coal more cleanly in power plants and other applications. Referring to electric utilities, William McMahon, head of CoaLogix, an 85%-owned subsidiary of Acorn Energy Inc., said, “There’s a guillotine hanging over their heads.”

McMahon, along with Daniel Goldman, executive vice president of GreatPoint Energy, a private Massachusetts-based firm that converts coal into natural gas, and Mark Pastore, vice president of technical development for Environmental Energy Services, a private fuel treatment company, outlined a future where environmental regulations will force U.S. power producers to spend abundantly on pollution control equipment that keeps a variety of pollutants out of the air. All three executives see coming regulations for mercury and carbon dioxide feeding rapid growth in “cleaner” coal technology.

Interestingly, the executives said that the sharp recent run-up in coal prices had not extended to lower grades of coal, and thus utilities were turning to these dirtier coal grades, thereby expanding business opportunities for companies that can keep coal plants running cleaner. “It’s really helping drive the business,” Pastore said.

Ironically, the industry’s present push to capture and sequester carbon dioxide emissions will add to the amount of electricity that must be generated by a coal-fired power plant, because it takes 30% more coal to generate the energy for sequestering. “That’s chasing your tail,” McMahon said, although until an alternative is found, he expects carbon sequestration to be deployed, resulting in still more business for “cleaner” coal technology firms.

Goldman of GreatPoint said his company is now fielding calls from China, where interest in GreatPoint’s coal-to-natural gas is building because it is a more efficient and more environmentally friendly use of coal, upon which China is as dependent as the U.S. GreatPoint also is fielding calls from other countries, he added.

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