MOUND HOUSE — Elite Energy Engineering is using an innovative approach to financing its latest product.
The local manufacturer has launched an Indiegogo fund to help defray the costs of bringing its MAG Power to market.
The crowdsourced fund, with a $4.8 million target, may end up being more of a way to promote its new technology than to pay for it, but the company is accustomed to looking for creative ways to expand its business.
E3 started life nearly two decades ago when Carolina Power & Light, a Raleigh, N.C.-based power distributor now owned by Duke Energy, was searching for a control system for standby generators for its large electricity customers.
Carolina Power & Light found the company in Carson City and acquired it in 1998, according to Steve Brandon, E3 chief operating officer.
The standby generator business never took off, but at the same time there was renewed interest in the concept of cogeneration — producing both heat and electricity from the same source of fuel.
“The idea was born in the earliest days of power generation but it came back in the 90s as a way to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels,” said Brandon.
Brandon said a typical fossil-fuel powered power plant is about 30 percent efficient.
“About 70 percent goes up the stack in the form of waste heat,” he said. “The combined efficiency (of cogeneration) is greater than 80 percent.”
The idea is to harness that otherwise wasted heat and use it to power an engine that runs, for example, a hospital’s boiler.
Cogeneration may be a good idea but it’s never been an easy business, said Brandon.
Many of the states’ electric utilities wielded enough political power to get tariffs passed that made the technology impractical, he said.
Then, in 2008, the recession hit.
“So we reinvented ourselves and moved into several businesses,” said Brandon.
That change in direction led to MAG Power — for methane abatement generator — powered by engines from Sparks-based Cashman Equipment Co.
At the time, Colorado and the federal government both started regulating fugitive emissions of oil and natural gas wells, where leaked methane is burned off into the atmosphere by large flares.
“The idea was to do an electrical generation product, the MAG box, and take that natural gas that would normally go into the flare and turn it into electricity for on-site consumption or to attach to the grid,” said Brandon.
More bad luck for E3, though, came when oil prices tumbled and state governments backed off strictly enforcing some of the new rules.
So E3 went back to the drawing board and started looking for other applications and industries for MAG Power.
Water disposal is an issue for oil companies, too, so E3 has teamed up with Slipstream LLC, an Albuquerque-based company, to use the MAG box to power a system that evaporates or crystalizes water produced from oil wells.
The company is also making a return to cogeneration, but this time targeting customers such as vegetable growers and medicinal marijuana growers who need to tons of power for greenhouse operations. The company, which has about 55,000 square feet of manufacturing space in two buildings, has also branched into other lines of business. It acts as a job shop for metal fabrication and can do air emissions testing using its own in-house equipment.
E3 has also developed what Brandon calls critical infrastructure modules, turnkey portable housing equipped with a power supply for data centers to plug in servers and get up and running fast.
So the privately-owned company, which employed a 100 people a few years ago but only 25 now, is forging ways for a comeback.
“What we’re trying to do with MAG Power is to come up with several applications that reduce cost,” said Brandon. “Our speciality is integrating technology.”