EQTEC PLC (LON:EQT) Chief Executive Officer Ian Price caught up with DirectorsTalk for an exclusive interview to discuss where they fit in in the US biomass market and also provides a background on the olive business in the Spanish and Mediterranean market.
Q1: EQTEC seems to be in a very interesting position at the moment and we thought it would be helpful to provide our listeners with more background on some of the markets that you’re operating in and your technology. Starting first, with the US, can you provide us with some background on the US biomass market and where you fit in?
A1: One area that we’re focussing on as a company is leveraging our existing relationships and experience and we believe this represents a significant market opportunity in two particular areas.
The first, as you say, is the US biomass where we have existing relationships in California with Phoenix Energy. California is one of a number of places where there are state-level government support programmes to manage biomass particularly forestry sources, one of the reasons behind this is to help reduce the risk of forest fires as we saw only too recently in California which had a devasting effect on a number of communities. This has been linked to global warming and there’s pressures to come up with solutions to prevent this happening in the future and we think this is where our technology can play its part, particularly in these management of the forestry residues.
There are also, from the gasification process itself, a number of other useful bi-products including production of electricity, heat and biochar, all of which have economic benefits not only California, there are a number of state-level support programmes around the US and we’re working hard at the moment to develop access to these new opportunities.
Q2: Moving to the Spanish and Mediterranean market where we understand you have unique technology that is applicable to using olive pomace as a feedstock, can you tell us more about this?
A2: The olive business is the second area of market opportunity I was referring to.
So, the South of Spain is the largest growing region in the world where a huge amount of olive oil production takes place. One of the bi-products of this is a very difficult olive pomace waste stream, whilst it has a high calorific value, it does contain some chemicals that can be very harmful to the environment if they’re not managed properly.
EQTEC has a longstanding relationships with one of the largest producers of olive oil in the South of Spain and this is where we built our first plant for Movialsa, this has operated successfully for over 80,000 hours now, so we have huge experience for managing this waste.
Until recently, energy plants which wanted to use this type of biomass are only allowed to use the power and heat for self-consumption which coupled with the upfront development costs, meant this was not an option for many producers. The law has changed recently there, and it allows any excess power to be exported to the grid which gives more flexibility in the operation of this type of facility but more importantly, it supports the business plan for plants as there is certainty what plants can deliver.
This is notwithstanding the additional benefits that we can also bring by replacing some or all of the costs of importing natural gas or electricity that’s currently used for power and heat in the olive oil production process.
So, we believe this will open up the market for new gasification plants and our experience in Movialsa should put us in a strong position to take advantage of this, it’s a significant niche market and we are the only gasification technology that has the track record to manage this waste. Indeed, we’ve actually received a couple of enquiries just recently as a result in the change of this legislation and we’re responding to those at the moment.
That’s Spain, the other thing to be aware of is obviously there are other significant olive oil and olive producing countries around the Mediterranean so there should be opportunities we think in the future, potentially in Portugal, in Greece and in Italy as well.