Consol, New Castle Firm Join on Recycling Venture
PITTSBURGH, Pa. – A company based in New Castle has developed technology that could have long-term ramifications for energy usage across the globe, and has secured a high-profile partner to help demonstrate its potential.
"We're really excited," remarked Ron Pettengill, executive vice president of Epiphany Solar Water Systems, as he addressed guests at a press event announcing a newly formed partnership with Pittsburgh-based Consol Energy. "This is technology that was created in Pennsylvania, used in Pennsylvania and could be exported to the world."
Consol announced Monday that it has secured a minority equity interest in Epiphany so the company can move forward on deploying solar-powered water recycling systems at Consol drilling sites in western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio. The system is the first of its kind in the world.
"We've taken this thing from a prototype, through full development, and now we have a commercial-ready product," said Epiphany's CEO, Tom Joseph.
Consol's president, Nick DeIuliis, said that the two companies share more objectives in common than one would think. "Water is something that affects everyone in this region," he said. And, there are about three billion people in the world without easy access to water and energy, and this technology could prove to be part of that solution.
"Consol is a perfect partner with Epiphany," he said. "We treat north of 35 to 36 billion gallons of water per year. We're probably the largest private handler of water in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania."
The demand for water is only going to increase, DeIuliis said, as energy companies continue to explore in the Marcellus and Utica shale plays. "The opportunity is there, the numbers are there. This made perfect sense for our region and in the bigger picture of the world over."
Initially, the system was to be used as a standard water purification system, Joseph said. But this year, Consol contacted the company and inquired whether this technology could be adapted for use as a solar-powered water recycling operation that could purify contaminated production water left over from the hydraulic fracturing process.
Hydraulic fracturing is a process that combines water, sand and chemicals, and injects this mixture at high pressure into freshly drilled wells. The composite helps to fracture tight shale formations 7,000 feet below the earth and unleash trapped gas.
"This production water is known to be contaminated and difficult to dispose of or purify," Joseph said. "Our goal is to develop a system that can purify the water and turn it into useful components, and turn it from being a cost center to a profit center."
Epiphany's system could not handle the large volumes of water that are initially jettisoned from the fracking process -- called flowback -- but instead handles the production water that accompanies gas and liquids as they are brought to the surface.
The system entails placing what resembles a medium-size satellite dish about six feet high with reflective material that is able to track the path of the sun. The sunlight hits the dish and bounces the energy to a receiver positioned in the middle of the disc.
From three to six of these dishes would be used at a single drill site, he said.
"It turns into high intensive heat," much like concentrating sunlight through a magnifying glass, Joseph explained. The energy is then absorbed by a synthetic oil that is pumped through the system and into a distillation unit. The intense heat causes the water to evaporate into steam, which then re-condenses into clean water.
As the water evaporates, Joseph said, it leaves behind all of the impurities, such as high concentration of metals and salt. These products could also be cleaned and reused for other purposes.
The closed-loop system would be able to clean 100 to 100,000 gallons of water per day, and would dramatically reduce costs for energy companies such as Consol that would normally transport that water to deep injection wells, Joseph said. It also could reduce by 90% the volume of toxins marked for offsite storage, alleviating many environmental concerns.
Moreover, the system isn't expensive to deploy, and in the long run reduces energy costs for the user, Joseph said.
The company received seed money from Innovation Works, a venture capital fund in Pittsburgh, and Joseph expects to have a pilot program set up at a well site in Greene County the next three months.
Consol's DeIuliis called water maintenance in the Utica and Marcellus shale both "a big challenge and a big opportunity. It's really incumbent upon the industry as to which one of the two view prevails."
Consol has invested $500,000 to inaugurate this new technology and incorporate it into its exploration and production methods. "We want to minimize the water footprint of development in Marcellus and the Utica shale," he said.
Consol, founded 150 years ago as a coal producer, has stepped up its activity in eastern Ohio in search for oil and gas opportunities along the Utica shale, especially in the Mahoning Valley, DeIuliis said.
In the near future, he said that the company would operate three segments of the business: coal, oil and gas, and water. "We see the day, not when this addresses a specific challenge of water in the Marcellus and the Utica -- reducing the volume of water going to injection wells -- but as another resource for this region."
Copyright 2012 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.
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