Burning Petcoke Can Be As Well.
Sometimes, all you have is an idea. But as J. Arthur Thompson once said, “The most powerful factors in the world are clear ideas in the minds of energetic men of good will.” Nothing more appropriate could be said of Darren Jarvis and Michael Eck of Matrix Engineering.
Michael, an electrical engineer from Cape Girardeau, and Darren, a mechanical engineer from Marshall County, have forged new paths in industrial energy efficiency at a time when rising energy costs stand poised to debilitate entire sectors. In 2001, the duo worked on a project with a Paducah-based Petcoke provider. Petcoke, a byproduct of the gasoline refining process, was once a throw-away leftover. But it has been discovered in recent years that Petcoke burns as a fuel more efficiently than coal and is cheaper than natural gas. As a result, many industries such as paper mills have been interested in the cost-saving potentials of Petcoke. The difficulty comes in how to handle and deliver the Petcoke to fuel burners.
“The company we worked with ground Petcoke for a paper mill in Hawesville, Kentucky,” says Michael. “The plant was using it, but it wasn’t efficient. The problem was that any Petcoke customer couldn’t burn as much as they wanted to because it wasn’t fed into the burner as quickly as it needed to be. We had to rely upon our expertise in material handling, especially when it comes to difficult products such as fine powders. They really needed an efficient way to convey it and feed it to their burners.”
Michael and Darren immediately saw the need for designing a delivery system that would meet the high demands of a paper mill. “We knew we could do it. The confidence was there. So we went to work selling what we thought we could do,” says Michael.
“We really put our reputation on the line,” adds Darren. “We worked and traveled for twelve months really pushing this thing. Just when we were thinking of throwing in the towel, we get orders for two systems. That was when the fun really began!”
The pair went fast to work getting their ideas out of their minds and into the fuel supply of two mills. “We had no idea the hurdles we would face,” laughs Darren. “It was tougher than we thought. But we accomplished our goal and gained a tremendous amount of knowledge. And once it was successful, we knew we had something innovative on our hands. We gained something really invaluable through that process.”
And the results were undeniable. Petcoke savings averaged about $30,000 a day for one paper mill who previously used fuel oil. And while such numbers automatically make many in the industry perk up and take notice, convincing them to convert to the new fuel was a different matter.
Many wanted to try it before making a commitment. Once again, Darren and Michael’s innovative minds met a welcomed challenge. In February 2008, Matrix rolled out a complete, mobile test unit. “We heard lots of people say, ‘I didn’t think about that!’” But we were able to get it to a mill and let them try it without any risk on their part.
“And the test unit is every bit as good as a permanent system,” adds Michael. “As a matter of fact, it is possible for a business to pay for a permanent system with the money they save while running on the mobile test unit!”
And Michael and Darren’s test unit has even caused the government to sit up and take notice. In August 2008, Governor Steve Beshear presented Matrix with a $500,000 grant to expand their Petcoke feed business. “We are going to be able to add more test units,” says Michael. “We have people lined up, waiting to use them. The one we have now is booked up for the next six months.”
To date, Michael and Darren have 15 systems up and running, including a new one at Newpage in Wickliffe. “It works out so well for the paper mills,” adds Michael. “And we are fine tuning it now, making it easier to train on and building the systems to last a long time. And Paducah Bank really made the whole process possible for us. Kerri Brotherson worked to understand our business and what we wanted to do. She took a great interest. And once Paducah Bank knew we were confident and saw great potential, they did too. It was great knowing that they wanted to know the details so that they could help us. They will be our partners well into the future because they know how to take on success.”
Since the spring of 2004, a dozen pulp and paper mills have saved over $66 million thanks to Matrix Engineering innovators Michael Eck and Darren Jarvis.
And financial partner, Paducah Bank, seeks to be just as visionary as the clients they serve.