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Questor takes on climate, health, energy with clean combustion tech

Dramatically reduces methane emissions from oil and gas sector, generates power from residual heat

An example of Questor's Q-Series clean combustion units. (Courtesy Questor Technology Inc.)

The ambition to simultaneously tackle energy poverty, greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution is driving Questor Technology Inc.’s (QST-X) CEO and president to lead the Calgary company’s development of clean combustion units.

By incinerating the waste gas from oil and gas operations, the process developed by the company eliminates most of the methane emissions and air pollutants, and uses the heat produced as a source of power.

“We’ve taken something that was wasted, that was polluting the air, that had an impact on climate change, and created revenue and value from that,” CEO Audrey Mascarenhas said in an interview with Sustainable Biz Canada.

Founded in 1994 by a group of B.C. investors, Questor has been led by the chemical engineer and oil and gas veteran since 2005. After a brief stint as a stay-at-home-mom, she was motivated to address greenhouse gas emissions at a time when few were interested in the issue, she said.

Asked by Questor to direct the company, Mascarenhas has not looked back, guiding it through the dotcom bubble and refocusing it on one type of technology, as it continues to secure deals for its products.

Cleaning up dirty stacks

The first step in Questor’s offering is Q-Series. Waste gas on site is mixed and collected, then incinerated at a 99.99 per cent efficiency rate. Pollutants such as the powerful greenhouse gas methane, and other carcinogenic air pollutants are outputted as carbon dioxide and water.

“We have the ability to efficiently destroy and combust the majority of hydrocarbon strains, component by component all the way to the heaviest, with no black smoke, no soot, no particulates,” Mascarenhas said.

Though it still outputs carbon dioxide, Questor’s clean combustion unit cuts the climate-warming potential by approximately 90 per cent because methane is 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide, she explained. This addresses the flaring and venting of methane, a major source of emissions.

The International Energy Agency says a 30 per cent cut to the world’s methane emissions over the next decade (since 2022) would have the same effect on global warming by mid-century as immediately shifting the global transport sector to net-zero carbon dioxide emissions.

Pollution is monitored by the company's Q-Insights, a cloud platform that provides real-time data coverage and analysis.

The heat from producing oil and gas can then be harnessed to ensure energy does not end up being expended for nothing.

Using Q-Power, Questor's waste-to-heat technology, the thermal energy can power a turbine by turning liquid into a gas. Models from as small as 77 kilowatts to as much as 1.5 megawatts can help power the oil and gas site so fewer fossil fuels are consumed, or power can be sent to the electricity grid.

Mascarenhas said Q-Power can lower a carbon pricing burden, and offers a 30 per cent return on investment.

By tapping into the heat, countries that do not have reliable electricity can benefit, she said. Using Nigeria as an example - an oil and gas producing country with many people still not connected to consistent electricity - she said Questor can provide more power, decrease the amount of flaring and venting, and improve the air quality and health for residents.

While critics may question cleaning up the oil and gas industry’s act as a way of prolonging use of fossil fuels, Mascarenhas said hydrocarbons will be important in maintaining quality of life and cannot be quickly eliminated from the economy. Combining reductions of methane emissions and energy efficiency is a cost efficient and effective climate action which buys time for other solutions, she argued.

Where Questor’s technology has been used

“If you look at a lot of the tall stacks in B.C. . . . the tall units are Questor’s,” Mascarenhas said about its reach and role in helping companies meet methane emission regulations.

In May, the company announced a $500,000 purchase order from a large midstream company in Western Canada that has already purchased over $1 million in equipment from Questor.

At a site in Fort Saskatchewan, Questor has also joined a project between Plains Midstream Canada and SNC-Lavalin to eliminate waste gas.

Case studies on its website summarize international projects:

  • reducing flaring for Whiting Petroleum Corporation in North Dakota;
  • helping Diavaz meet Mexico’s methane regulations with 13 thermal oxidizers; and
  • an installation at an Egyptian onshore liquified natural gas facility.

Two major companies in Iraq have engaged in conversations, and the Nigerian government asked Questor to participate in a pilot to address flaring and venting. It is also working with refineries in India.

A management discussion and analysis released with its Q1 financials shows the company is closely watching methane regulations being drafted in Canada, the U.S. and the European Union.

Questor operated at a loss of $636,759 in Q1 and $4.8 million in 2023, but held on to $4.1 million in cash and cash equivalents in Q1.

Questor’s next quest

The next steps for Questor are growing its team, continuing the development of its data technology and scaling up globally.

For now, investment is not an immediate priority; the company holds no debt and has sufficient cash in its coffers, the CEO said.

Sustainable Development Technology Canada provided the company $4.5 million in 2021 for its waste-to-energy equipment.

Construction on its 1.5-megawatt Q-Power unit is continuing, and testing will take place in Q2. Installation at a third-party site and final field testing is expected in the second half of 2024.

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