The U.S. Department of Energy has a goal of carbon filtration using solid sorbents by 2030. In June, Virginia Tech’s Advanced Power and Propulsion Laboratory became home to a proof-of-concept experiment that could help launch a billion-dollar business that will have enormous implications for fossil fuel-burning power plants, specifically how pollutants are collected and recycled, and thus impact the long-term goal.

Partnering with MOVA Technologies, based in Pulaski, Virginia, Joseph Meadows, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering in the College of Engineering, will analyze the company’s panel-bed filters at his test cell in the lab. With Meadows, Stephen Martin, an associate professor of chemical engineering, will serve as the subject-matter-expert in the field of solid sorbents.

“Working with MOVA, we will measure the efficacy of the company’s panel-bed filters at absorbing various pollutants, saturation time for various conditions and contaminants, and optimize the system’s operational parameters,” said Meadows. “In the future, we will investigate these parameters in realistic temperature and pressure environments.”

Traditional scrubbers remove pollutants en masse, leaving tons of collected waste that require expensive specialty treatment or storage. MOVA’s panel-bed filters are designed to selectively remove individual contaminants, which can then be easily sold as products in their own right – lowering the amount of pollutants that are put into storage by recycling waste into products.

Examples of applications that use recycled waste include: fly ash used in cement, sulfur dioxide used in preservatives and wastewater treatment, nitric oxide used by the fertilizer and medical industries, and carbon dioxide sold as carbon emission credits.

“Currently, industry and power plants have scrubbers that remove pollutants from their smokestacks. These pollutants are sealed and stored in what are essentially large vacuum cleaner bags, waiting to be shipped off for storage,” said Steve Critchfield, CEO and president of MOVA Technologies.

Meadows will spend six months putting the filters through various operating conditions and contaminants to test the efficacy and to characterize the gas that passes through the filters pre- and post-filtration. Martin’s role as a subject matter expert is to modify the solid sorbents that capture the pollutants as needed during the analysis and testing.

“We will be testing the panel-beds and several other subsystems that make up the filtration apparatus to characterize the temperature, humidity, pressure, flow composition, flow rate, flow velocity, and the internal filtration velocity,” said Meadows. “It’s a very thorough and exhaustive experiment to ensure the system can meet the future needs of industrial power plants and to capture pollutants from industrial buildings.”

The testing team will also look at filtration efficiency for each pollutant and the solid sorbents that go into each panel bed. Martin will be addressing the selection of solid sorbents that are responsible for capturing the individual pollutants. 

A graphic of a proposed filter louvre
This graphic shows the basic design of the filter louvre, which is designed to filter specific pollutants to then be recycled and resold.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s goal is one Critchfield believes MOVA can beat to market by a decade. In-depth studies have identified the panel-bed’s potential to reduce capital and operating costs by 15% and 25%, respectively, compared to competing bag filter technologies, in part due to simultaneous pollutant removal, operating with higher temperatures, a lower pressure drop, and a reduced footprint.

MOVA is a product of the work of the late Arthur Squires, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Chemical Engineering who passed away in 2012. Squires, a key figure on the Manhattan Project, was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1977 for contributions to the research and understanding of coal gasification and the recovery of organic chemicals from coal. He created eight patents that formed MOVA with the goal of commercializing his technologies. He also formed the A.M. Squires Trust that will use a portion of the money raised through commercialization to support the arts in Southwest Virginia, in addition to supporting several colleges within Virginia Tech, according to Critchfield.

“We will be able to use this technology designed by Dr. Squires to allow modular power plants to operate on coal or even burn old automobile tires more cleanly than current power production facilities, which also has the benefit of reducing contributions to landfills,” he said.

According to a market study conducted by Virginia Tech Knowledge Works, the panel-bed filtration system has the potential to generate annual revenues of between $500 million and $1 billion.

“In 2010 when Dr. Squires started thinking about how to more cleanly burn fossil fuels, he was thinking about the growing response to the carbon footprint,” said Critchfield. “Now, we’re at the point of proof-of-concept and I like to think he would have been very happy that Virginia Tech is able to play a pivotal role.”

Critchfield received a bachelor’s in agriculture economics and a minor in computer science from Virginia Tech. He leads a team of three young Virginia Tech alumni: Matthew Gulotta, Luke Allison, and James Compton.

"We’re pleased to keep development of the panel-bed in Southwest Virginia,” said Compton. “The majority of our capital investors are from this region, and the technology is designed for applications that could benefit Virginia’s economy, with a specific emphasis on Southwest Virginia. Proof-of-concept testing at Virginia Tech coincides with our company operations and future goals.”

MOVA is also exploring opportunities to expand the panel-bed’s applications to the agriculture industry. This involves removing hazardous emissions and odorous smells, such as ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, volatile organic compounds and nitrogen released from swine, poultry, and beef production.

For more information on MOVA Technologies, please visit their website.

 

Written by Rosaire Bushey