Community Power Corporation

Englewood, Colorado

Founded: 1995

Owned by Afognak Native Corporation (Alaska)

Employees: 19

VP Bill Cetti is pushing the manufacturer of biomass gasification systems into a wide range of industrial markets.

Originally founded by ex-employees of Westinghouse’s shuttered renewable division. Community Power Corporation (CPC) was a government grant-driven company until 2011, when Afognak Native Corporation acquired it to commercialize its gasification technology.

CPC’s proprietary BioMax Gasification System takes feedstocks of carbon-rich biomass and creates syngas with roughly 15 percent the energy potential of natural gas. The syngas can be used to run electrical generators or boilers or blend with propane or diesel for less expensive electrical generation and other applications. The modular system repurposes 20-foot shipping containers for drying, gasification, gas-blending, and other custom applications.

“It takes biomass materials like wood chips, nutshells, and in some cases cardboard or paper, and converts it into a gas,” says Bill Cetti, vice president of CPC’s bioenergy division. “It’s really designed for where the customer has waste or feedstock available.”

BioMax is in most cases a more reliable play than solar. “Solar only works when the sun shines,” says Cetti. “Gas fires 24 hours a day, regardless of weather.”

While the process was originally developed for front-line military applications and the developing world, Cetti says the target market is now small industrial applications in the U.S. Installations to date include one that uses wood chips to displace propane for paint drying at a furniture factory in Oregon and another that uses propane to dispose of biomedical waste in Hawaii.

CPC also has three installations at Premiere Mushrooms’ facilities in the Sacramento Valley in California used for power generation. The mushroom farms use walnut shells from nearby processing plants to create syngas.

Cetti also sees potential for generation facilities to displace propane and diesel inputs by as much as 50 percent. That’s especially important in markets where diesel is used extensively for generation — such as Asia and Africa — and diesel is costly. In Indonesia, for example, diesel regularly tops $15 a gallon because of transportation and distribution costs. Cetti says CPC can often match utility rates for heat and power.

The company creates jobs with every installation, and basic mechanical skills are the only prerequisite for operators. (Spare parts are readily available worldwide as well.) “The one thing that happened as a result of the grant work, we had to build a system that was really simple — but complex — for military forward-operating units, says Cetti. “You never knew who was going to be the operator.”

It follows that BioMax “has its own brains,” he explains, noting that the computer measures 175 data points. “If it sees a problem, it sends a text message. We’ve got nobody to thank but the Department of Defense for that.”

CPC honed BioMax at over 40 gasification military installations in Iraq before Afognak, a 5,000-employee provider of government services, acquired the company in a diversification play.

Challenges: “The development of the market,” says Cetti. “We’re not only having to build a market, but educate it as we go.” The key, he adds, “is to find independent companies to be distributors and resellers…who understand what we do and how it fits into the industry they’re associated with.”

Opportunities: Diesel displacement in power generation. “The amount of diesel generators sold annually is amazing,” says Cetti, citing a worldwide total of about 400,000 units. And for BioMax, diesel displacement “is a much easier installation,” and a flexible one in terms of inputs as well. “In Indonesia, palm kernels are readily available. In the Philippines, coconuts are readily available. In the Sacramento Valley, walnut and almond shells are readily available.”

Needs: Cetti says the company’s only specific need is to build a network of “third-party leadership” as outlined under “Challenges,” above, to catalyze CPC’s marketing channels.