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Skyonic’s Secret to Cleanest Coal Plants: Drano

To arrive at the cleanest version of coal technology, Skyonic pioneered a process involving a chemical you use to wipe out tough hair clogs in your bathroom sink.

Silver Lake plant

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Like it or not, the U.S. is committed to clean coal, or technology that buries or scrubs CO2 from coal-fired power plants. So we’re heartened to hear that Skyonic, a startup that turns CO2 emissions into baking soda, is working on a new project that can remove up to 99% of all pollutants from exhaust gases, including remove sulfur oxides (SOX), nitrogen oxides (NOX), mercury, and heavy metals.

Dubbed SkyScraper, the technology can be retrofitted to existing plants or attached to new ones. Once installed, SkyScraper works by adjusting the contact time between toxic gases and the caustic liquid used to scrub them so that the mix produces only sodium sulfate and sodium nitrate–relatively benign chemicals found in fertilizers, preservatives, enamels, and more. After the baking soda, sodium nitrate, and sodium sulfate have been collected, they can be safely stored. CO2 is scrubbed afterward using the company’s SkyMine technology.

Jones is confident that the technology will be a hit because of new EPA regulations that will require one third of coal and industrial plants to scrub toxins from their flue stacks. “Large scale scrubbers such as wet limestone are really only scalable down
to a 400 megawatt equivalent. Ours works down to
the 10 megawatt level,” explains CEO Joe Jones. Most of the coal and industrial plants covered by the new regulations are under a 400 megawatt energy capacity, which means Skyonic’s technology may be their best bet.

Skyonic also claims that its processes are cheaper than competitors’ offerings–EPA compliance using other technology could cost up to $650 per kilowatt, while Skyonic’s technology costs approximately $150 per kilowatt. The secret is Skyonic’s powerful reaction mechanism–sodium hydroxide, a common household drain cleaner found inside products like Drano–combined with the smaller reaction chamber used to scrub pollutants.

Skyonic is already on track to begin construction of a commercial
carbon capture plant next to Capitol Aggregates Cement Plant in San
Antonio, Texas that will incorporate both SkyMine and SkyScraper
technology. The plant should be finished before 2012.

“This is cleanest coal technology,” says Jones. “When we return gas back to the flue, it contains only
nitrogen, water vapor, and very low ppms of anything else. It’s roughly
equivalent to the environment itself.”

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Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by email.

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About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.

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