By David Hendricks
San Antonio Express-News
SAN ANTONIO — What is hailed as the latest step in clean-air green technology got its worldwide start in San Antonio on Monday.
Skyonic Corp. broke ground in Northeast San Antonio for Capitol SkyMine, a $126 million chemical plant. The facility will convert a portion of the carbon dioxide emissions from the Capitol Aggregates Inc. cement plant into minerals that will be converted into products to be sold on the open market.
The technology to mineralize carbon dioxide emissions from industrial plants is considered a breakthrough.
Austin-based Skyonic will build Capitol SkyMine in a partnership with the owner of the cement plant, San Antonio’s Zachry Corp. The facility, to be built adjacent to the cement plant, will employ about 35 workers directly and is scheduled for completion in late 2014.
When the plant turns out products, such as hydrochloric acid for use in the hydraulic fracturing drilling process in the Eagle Ford Shale area, and baking soda, an estimated 200 additional jobs will result indirectly, mostly for product distribution and transportation.
The Capitol Aggregates plant at 11551 Nacogdoches Road was one of nine sites that competed for the Capitol SkyMine plant, said inventor Joe Jones, Skyonic CEO.
“San Antonio is a wonderful location by rail to transport the hydrochloric acid to the Eagle Ford and to transport byproducts for animal feed,” Jones said before the ceremony.
“Plus, the Zachry family stood up and put up the money” necessary for Skyonic to match $28 million in U.S. Energy Department grants, Jones said. “That kind of initiative made the public-private partnership work. Also, the Zachry company is always ahead on regulations.”
The technology was vetted by San Antonio’s Southwest Research Institute and at a laboratory set up at the Capitol Aggregates plant, which burns coal to make cement.
“The technology is proven enough to convince customers to sign 10-year contracts to buy from us,” Jones said.
He came up with the technology after seeing a television show posing a solution for handling carbon dioxide from human breathing in spacecraft.
“I knew that wasn’t the way. I tried to look it up on the Internet, but I couldn’t find it. I then looked at a chemistry textbook from my undergraduate days. I had written it in the margins of the textbook. I knew the solution 25 years ago. It was like a message in a bottle to me,” he said.
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Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff described the mineralization technology in simple terms while speaking at the ceremony. “You take rock, salt and water, and electrocute it to create products we can export out of San Antonio,” Wolff said. “It’s an extraordinary technological achievement.”
Bangkok-based Toyo-Thai Corp. Plc. has a $117 million contract to build most of the Capitol SkyMine plant. Toyo-Thai President and CEO Hironobu Iriya said his company plans to replicate the Capitol SkyMine plant elsewhere.
“This process is very good for carbon remediation,” the Toyo-Thai executive said. “It’s a very clean, green technology, very nice for the environment.”
Skyonic believes the plant will become profitable in three years. The company has only 20 employees, but “it’s the best carbon capture team on the planet,” Jones said.
“We’ve been at this for many years,” added Greg Hale, Capitol Aggregates’ president. “This is truly an historic event for this community and our industry.”