NOVOROCS Technologies LLC, based in Rochester, New York, is a startup company founded to commercialize advanced catalyticreforming technologies for processing of fossil, synthetic, and renewable hydrocarbon feedstocks into hydrogen-rich or methane-rich fuels for energy generation. The company, started in April 2013, is a joint venture between fuel cell developer Solid Cell, Inc. and Unicat Ltd, a spinoff company from the Boreskov Institute of Catalysis in Russia.
NOVOROCS began commercialization of its catalyst technology platform by focusing on developing compact, low-cost, scalable, and robust catalytic reformers for fuel cells. The unique NOVOROCS catalyst differs from its competitorsin that it relies on non-platinum group metals over a honeycomb-like regularly structured porous metal support. The design enables high gas throughput and excellent heat exchange properties, far superior to that achieved with traditional ceramic catalyst supports. Moreover, the absence of platinum group metals in the catalyst lowers materials cost by nearly two thirds over the state of the art without compromising performance or lifetime.
The NOVOROCS technology is ideal for fuel cell manufacturers that require compact, robust reformers with rapid response times. These include an array of applications such as military, off-grid power generation, automotive, and residential combined heat and power. In a further effort to increase demand from the fuel cell industry, NOVOROCS has been working on a unique metal foam-based catalyst with superior heat transfer properties. The foam catalyst is being tested as a heat-exchange material for recovering waste heat directly from a fuel cell and using that waste heat to drive an in-situ reforming reaction. The goal of this development is to eventually provide direct reforming inside a high-temperature fuel cell stack, eliminating the need for a separate reformer unit.
NOVOROCS does not market its catalyst material directly to fuel cell manufacturers. Rather, the company develops reforming modules and complete reformer units to meet specific customer requirements. Several such units have been sold to leading US manufacturers of fuel cells.
A second area of activity for NOVOROCS is the development of catalytic reformers for flare gas utilization at gas and oil well sites. Over 150 billion cubic meters of low-quality natural gas are flared annual around the world, constituting an enormous potential for the monetization of this waste stream. A NOVOROCS reformer can convert the flare gas into a useable fuel stream to directly power a gas engine or fuel cell. It can also produce a fuel stream compatible with production of compressed natural gas (CNG) or liquefied natural gas (LNG) that can be transported, stored, and used for subsequent energy generation.
A third relatively new area of research and product development for NOVOROCS is the reduction of NOX emissions from legacy rich-burn power generation engines at wastewater treatment plants and landfills. The concept is also termed “hydrogen boosting.” The principal technology is based on catalytic reforming of a slipstream of biogas into hydrogen-rich synthesis gas that is subsequently incorporated into the fuel mix of a gas engine. The result is a significant increase in the flammability limits of the engine, allowing it to operate in ultra-lean mode and lowering the release of carcinogenic NOx by up to 70%, while improving engine efficiency.
NOVOROCS managing director Arkady Malakhov explains, “At NOVOROCS, we have taken a two-prong approach to commercializing our catalytic reforming technology for energy generation and storage. On the one hand, we have our eyes set on the future as we strive to incorporate our catalytic reformers into fuel cells, sterling engines, and heat pumps that rely on alternative and renewable fuels. On the other hand, understanding fully that conventional power generation technologies based on fossil fuels are here to stay for decades to come, we are also working on deploying our solutions for efficiency improvements and emissions reduction in conventional power generation and the oil and gas industry.”
NOVOROCS has generated interest from several established companies, including two in the Fortune 500. Several development projects are currently underway or in the planning stages, which has been made possible through the generous grant support of NYSERDA. NOVOROCS has also been a very active member in NY-BEST, with one of its senior managers, Mr. Barry Watkins, currently serving on the consortium’s Board of Directors. Additional critical support has come from the Golisano Institute for Sustainability at Rochester Institute of Technology, which has provided immeasurable technical support and access to testing facilities to NOVOROCS, its partners, and customers.