Bellevue firm using supersonic technology in fight against climate change
July 1, 2009 · Updated 1:50 PM
Breaking the sound barrier could be as important to battling climate change as it once was in fighting the Cold War.
Ramgen Power Systems is applying supersonic aircraft technology to develop a machine that compresses carbon dioxide so it can be pumped into the ground.
Such a mechanism could reduce industrial greenhouse-gas emissions like never before, which is why the federal government has awarded the Bellevue-based research-and-development firm $20 million in stimulus money.
Carbon-compression isn’t new technology. The normal process involves sending trapped carbon dioxide through spinning compressor blades. But that method is limited because shock waves occur once the blades exceed the speed of sound.
Ramgen's goal is to turn that problem into a solution by actually harnessing shock waves to compress the gas faster, cheaper, and with smaller machines than those that currently exist. The company is developing a 10,000 horsepower mechanism that would do the job with a rotor roughly the size of a basketball.
Some environmental advocates say that spending money on fossil-fuel technology is an abomination when those same funds could be devoted to the development of clean and renewable energy resources.
Ramgen CEO Doug Jewett says such arguments are useless, since fossil fuels are likely to remain the cheapest source of energy for the next several decades.
"The idea is that we'll just have to use fossil fuel for the foreseeable future, absent some unexpected breakthrough," he said.
The goal with carbon compression is to limit the damage to Earth as industrialized countries continue to burn fossil fuels at an increasing rate. This would buy time while the price for clean energy drops.
Jewett shows a certain amount of zeal for the cause.
"We need a global commitment to solve the problems with energy supply and climate change," he said. "I'd hate for my grandkids to inherit a planet that was befouled because we wouldn't fix this or hadn't tried to do anything about it."
Ramgen has teamed up with the international air-compressor manufacturer Dresser-Rand to develop a full-scale machine that would put its concepts to use. The company expects to begin testing of a device in 2011, with demonstrations in 2014.
Joshua Adam Hicks can be reached at 425.453.4290.