Babcock Power continues to innovate in the mature environmental services and equipment market.
By Tim O’Connor
The world keeps getting a little cleaner every day. The Clean Air Act of 1970 and its updates in 1977 and 1990 set the standards for pollutants and the responsibilities that companies had to the environment. The law also created opportunity for businesses that could help manufacturers and energy produces adhere to those standards by providing and installing pollutant-reducing equipment.
The global market for selective catalytic reduction (SCR) systems for coal-fired plants was projected to grow 8.4 percent between 2013 and 2018, according to a 2014 study by firm Research and Markets. SCR systems use a chemical reaction to break down nitrogen oxide gas into water vapor and nitrogen
It is within this emissions control space that Babcock Power Environmental has focused its efforts for the past two decades. The OEM provides complete solutions for the world’s power generation, industrial, environmental and waste-to-energy markets. Much of its work involves designing and installing equipment for coal-fired plants, which are subject to tight emissions control. Those regulations can change depending not only on scientific understanding but which politicians are in office at the time.
To best serve its customers, Babcock Power must stay ahead of those changing standards. “We react to regulations that are promulgated in Washington,” Babcock Power Environmental President Jim Dougherty says. “We adjust our markets based on the regulations and the needs of the industry.”
Those new regulations often result in tighter controls on the emission generated by coal-fired power plants and industrial boilers. The U.S. electric power sector was responsible for 1.9 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions in 2015, about 37 percent of all CO2 emissions related to the nation’s energy industry, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
The electric power sector was the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States in 2014, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Most of that was related to coal-fired plants. Coal accounts for about 77 percent of CO2 emissions from power production, according to the EPA, but only generates about 39 percent of the country’s electrical power.
In 2015, President Barack Obama announced the Clean Power Plan, establishing the first-ever national standards to limit carbon pollution generated from power plants. The plan set goals for reducing CO2 emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. The U.S. Supreme Court stayed the implementation of the Clean Power Plan in February pending judicial review. However, the EPA continues to work on measures that would reduce carbon emissions.
In addition to promoting the use of more renewable energies such as wind, the EPA is encouraging electricity producers to become more efficient and to install equipment that will capture a large amount of pollutants before entering the air or water systems. In some cases, water discharge must now be drinking water-quality. Dougherty says Babcock Power has the equipment and know-how to help facilities achieve those more stringent requirements.
Babcock Power is a century-old, privately owned energy and environmental services provider. The Boston-area company has active projects in more than 10 countries, providing products such as heat exchangers, steam generators, mercury control, air pollution control systems and selective catalytic reduction systems.
The company’s size and capabilities have made it a leader in the air quality control market. “We give you certainty in the project itself,” Dougherty says. Babcock Power is a project company on a technology platform, able to marry together its services with the benefits of being an OEM.
What has made the company successful in the past decade, Dougherty says, is its ability to locate equipment on site; create a project plan with the engineer; and procure, fabricate and construct. Using the classic engineer-procure-construct (EPC) method, Babcock Power can deliver projects on schedule, with few change-orders, providing customers with the predictability they crave.
Every industry-leading company has a set of core values that drives its philosophy. At Babcock Power, those values are teamwork, integrity and performance. Employees are encouraged to collaborate and solicit ideas not only from their co-workers, but also suppliers, partners and customers. Babcock Power encourages employees to treat customers with respect and deliver quality performance that exceeds expectations. The company promotes continuous improvement and uses a web-based training program called BPI Learn to instill employees with its culture and methods.
Collaboration is key at Babcock Power because work is broken down into project teams, each of which takes on two to three projects at any given time. Easy communication is necessary for those project teams to be successful.
To facilitate conversation, Babcock Power implemented an open floor plan about 10 years ago. Employees are sorted into rows adhering to their position: project managers in one row, schedulers, cost controllers and engineers in others. Dougherty says the setup creates much interaction among different disciplines and allows the company to more easily move people around to match them up for the right project.
The team-based organization allows employees to utilize their talents on a number of projects simultaneously. Sharing those employees results in a lower cost for the customer. “Most of these projects cannot support a dedicated project team and in today’s competitive environment you need to find ways to be more efficient,” Dougherty says. “We’re able to keep our overhead on a project lower by leveraging the project teams across multiple projects.”
Babcock Power designs all of its products, but the company does not actually manufacture the equipment. The environmental control systems, combustion systems and other products Babcock Power creates are often too large.
Instead, Babcock Power utilizes manufacturers local to the client to fabricate its products, reducing the transportation cost and delivery time. Those manufacturers are mostly companies Babcock Power has worked with before and is confident will meet specifications and schedules. “To move efficiently, we work with the same people for the most part,” Dougherty says. “They understand our behavior and we understand theirs.”
When choosing which manufacturers to work with, Babcock Power looks for companies that have a facility within driving distance of the delivery site. Babcock Power reviews the manufacturer’s shop capabilities. If it’s the first time Babcock Power has contracted with the manufacturer, Babcock Power provides additional oversight to ensure that fabrication goes smoothly. Dougherty says Babcock Power’s engineers collaborate with the local manufacturer to streamline production and improve quality.
Babcock Power prefers to do as much work as possible in the fabrication shop as opposed to having to make adjustments on site. Dougherty explains there is better quality control when the equipment is completed at the shop. Further, any adjustments that must be made on site to tie the equipment into the client’s facility add cost and time to the project.
Using those local manufactures helps avoid delays – an important advantage for a schedule-driven company like Babcock Power. During the past five years the company has achieved better than 99 percent on-time delivery, Dougherty says. That impressive record was not always the case. Before it refocused on schedule, Babcock Power occasionally struggled with installing the equipment on the customer’s timeline.
The company recognized schedule as an area where it could improve and began drilling into ways it could become more efficient. It introduced more gates during the production process where employees would check in with the manufacturer’s progress. Because of those more frequent check-ins, Babcock Power became aware of problems in production at an earlier point and had more time to work with the manufacturer to develop a workaround that kept the project on schedule. “Effectively we’re on time,” Dougherty says. “That has really changed the viewpoint of us in the marketplace.”
Adapting To Market
Babcock Power has a broad presence in the environmental market but the two types of equipment it is best known for are its flue gas desulfurization systems for controlling acid gases and sulfur dioxide and its SCR units for nitrogen oxide control. The company is seen as a market leader in SCR, which functions similarly to the catalytic converters found on all automobiles but on a much larger scale for power plants. SCR injects ammonia into exhaust to facilitate/drive a reaction that breaks down nitrogen oxides into nitrogen and water. The process results in lower nitrogen oxide emissions.
Flue gas desulfurization systems are designed to scrub sulfur dioxide and other harmful gases out of exhaust gas from coal plants. Babcock Power’s Turbosorp circulating dry fluid bed scrubber is well suited for coal with sulfur content below 3 percent with typical acid gas removal efficiencies greater than 97 percent, and is available in capacities up to 350 MW.
The Turbosorp works by flowing flue gas through a fluid bed reactor containing finely atomized water and hydrated lime. The fluid bed is made from solids such as calcium hydroxide, fly ash and solid reaction products.
Babcock Power also offers single and dual loop wet flue gas desulfurization systems featuring an optimized design effective at lowering power consumption while removing sulfur dioxide.
Although it has worked its way to the top of the environmental space, Babcock Power continues to look at the next market shift. The most recent incarnation of the Clean Air Act has been in place for 26 years, the environmental market is mature and many facilities have made the required emissions upgrades. “We got 20 years out of this environmental market. That’s a pretty long run,” Dougherty says.
To find that next market, Babcock Power is listening to its customers and paying attention to politicians. Dougherty believes there is opportunity in the civil market, designing and installing ash cap enclosures, which sheds water off the ash pond instead of allowing it to percolate through the waste and become polluted. Babcock Power engineers understand the chemical properties of the process, making it a natural direction for the company. Meanwhile, the company will continue to provide services for its past environmental work even as the number of new projects dwindles.
Dougherty says the shift to civil projects could be another 10-year market for Babcock Power. The company is leveraging its name and capabilities to secure work; however, like environmental, civil work is regulation-driven and many potential clients won’t undertake projects until new rules compel them. Judging by the feedback Babcock Power is receiving from customers and political leaders, Dougherty believes those regulations will be coming within the next few years. “We’re confident that it’s going to be a replacement [for power plant emissions],” Dougherty says. “It’s a $50 billion-plus market over 10 years but it hasn’t defined itself yet.”