Pyropower Stoked About Clean Air : Manufacturing: San Diego firm’s boiler technology burns fuel more completely. Growth is expected as private industry builds more power plants.


As if they were ringside spectators at a title boxing match, Pyropower Corp. executives are anxiously watching as U. S. House and Senate members go through rounds of deliberations on a comprehensive new Clean Air Act.

A final version of the bill isn’t expected for at least a month, but early drafts indicate that the bill may include a provision that would force more than 100 “dirty” power utilities to burn fuel more cleanly to reduce toxic emissions.

If the provision survives the congressional battle, the Pyropower executives say their company stands a chance of making a significant windfall. Why? San Diego-based Pyropower manufactures industrial and utility boilers that burn coal and other inexpensive fuels with minimal damage to the environment.

Pyropower is one of a handful of major players in the market for boilers that use circulating fluidized bed technology. As fuel is fed into Pyropower-designed furnaces, a steady stream of air keeps the fuel floating, providing for a more thorough burn. And, unlike conventional units, Pyropower boilers capture fuel that fails to burn completely and circulates the fuel back into the furnace for complete combustion.


The process is seen as environmentally beneficial because it uses crushed limestone, which is blown into the furnaces to create a chemical reaction that eliminates the sulfur dioxides generally blamed for creating acid rain.

Pyropower and its competitors, which include ABB Combustion Engineering of Stamford, Conn.; Foster Wheeler of Clinton, N.J., and Riley Consolidated of Worcester, Mass., all see a big potential for profits in the passage of stricter environmental laws.

Although 10-year-old Pyropower has been growing steadily since its founding, company officials say their best years could lie ahead as new legislation, such as the Clean Air bill, and a “greening” society increasingly force businesses to meet tougher environmental standards.

The Clean Air bill targets 107 specific utility plants that operate more than 250 boilers. Each of those boilers may end up being replaced to help the utilities meet lower sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide emission standards. “We see that as helping our market,” said Robert Gamble, Pyropower manager of marketing programs.

Moreover, the emergence of independent power plants that are not owned by utilities but sell energy to utilities or directly to industry should increase demand for boilers such as those made by Pyropower, Gamble said. Last year, independent power producers spent $8 billion to $10 billion building power plants, industry sources said.

Over the last four years, Pyropower’s revenues have more than doubled. Last year, the company, a closely held subsidiary of the A. Ahlstrom Corp. of Helsinki, Finland, posted revenue of $118.3 million. More than 80 Pyropower boilers that use circulating fluidized bed technology are in operation or under construction worldwide.

Recently, Pyropower Corp. was selected by the Department of Energy under its Clean Coal Technology Program to supply Dairyland Power Cooperative of Wisconsin with its new, pressurized circulating fluidized bed boiler. Pyropower President William Compas said the demonstration plant is intended to prove the technical and commercial viability of the new technology.

“In the new unit, all the burning is done in a pressurized chamber,” Compas said. “The pressurized condition enhances the capture of sulfur dioxide.” He expects the new units to be commercially available by the late 1990s.

Pyropower “is one of the leading suppliers of the circulating fluidized bed boilers. . . . They’re very, very good at burning a variety of low-grade fuels like coal and coal wastes,” said Bill Marx, president of the Council of Industrial Boiler Owners, a Burke, Va.-based organization consisting primarily of manufacturers that use boilers.

Indeed, one of Pyropower units’ selling points is its capacity to burn a range of inexpensive fuels at a time of ever-rising fuel costs, Gamble said.

“In some cases there are waste products that, if you couldn’t burn, you would have to spend money to get rid of,” Gamble said. “With one of our units, you can even burn the waste product, generate electricity, and make money from it.”

For example, mounds of culm--a byproduct of coal mining--have accumulated in northeastern Pennsylvania. But, after installing a Pyropower boiler, the Gilberton Power Co. was able to use this previously unusable energy source to generate steam and electrical power.

The predictions by the U.S. Department of Energy that 100,000 megawatts of new power plant capacity will be built by the year 2000 have Pyropower officials expecting prosperous times ahead.

“The utility power market hit an all-time peak in 1974, and, as a result, (utilities) overbuilt,” Gamble said. “Then you had a slowdown in electricity demand. . . . There was a downturn in heavy industrial businesses, and there was a heavy emphasis on energy conservation. So, in the 1980s, the utilities bought very little new equipment. But now it looks like the market is about to rebound.”

The passage of the Public Utility Regulatory Policy Act of 1978 gave rise to a new generation of independent power producers, which Pyropower is increasingly targeting. Of the 100,000 new megawatts of plant capacity that will be built by the year 2000, 40% to 50% will be built by non-utilities, said Richard Schwartz, chief editor of Independent Power Report, a New York-based industry newsletter.

Passed as a response to the energy crisis of the 1970s, PURPA was designed to encourage the construction of efficient power plants such as co-generation, solar or wind power plants.

“The independent power industry is a fairly big deal now,” Schwartz said. “Just last year, the industry spent 8 to 10 billion dollars to build power plants. “