Spectrum Astro founder hopes new firm can offer alternatives to oil - East Valley Tribune: Business

Spectrum Astro founder hopes new firm can offer alternatives to oil

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Posted: Wednesday, February 1, 2006 5:35 am | Updated: 3:43 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

A new Gilbert company working on advanced energy technologies will focus on coal gasification and liquefaction as the best alternatives for relieving the nation’s dependence on foreign oil.

The privately held company, Diversified Energy Corp., was founded by industrialist W. David Thompson. Thompson was the founder and chief executive of satellite maker Spectrum Astro Corp., which he sold to General Dynamics in 2004.

Diversified Energy, 2020 W. Guadalupe Road, has only two employees, but Thompson hopes to build the firm into a major force in alternative energy, much as he built Spectrum Astro into an important supplier to NASA and the U.S. Department of Defense.

“There is clear and definite evidence that the United States, and the entire world, is on the brink of a major energy crisis, and we must aggressively pursue alternative solutions to sustain our economy and maintain our quality of life,” Thompson said.

Initially the company will pursue wind, solar, coal gasification and coal-to-liquids projects, he said. Phillip Brown, a former aerospace manager for Spectrum Astro and Northrup Grumman, has been named president and chief operating officer responsible for the company’s day-to-day operations.

“We are going to hire the best and brightest engineering, technical and business staff, provide a working environment that encourages creativity, independence and performance, and develop a world-class organization with premier capabilities,” Brown said.

He said the company hopes to have a core team of executives and engineers in place by the end of March. The pace of further hiring will depend on how rapidly its energy projects proceed.

“The potential for us to become a large company is high,” he said.

Thompson and Brown are most excited about technologies that turn coal into clean-burning synthetic gas and liquid fuels.

Brown said the company is negotiating with another firm he did not identify that is developing a coal gasification process 50 percent cheaper than current technology. Such a cost reduction would make the syngas competitive with natural gas at its current inflated price, he said.

Syngas could be burned directly in boilers to generate electricity, or it could be turned into clean diesel, gasoline and other liquid fuels, Brown said. “What makes this attractive is there is a 275-year supply of coal in the U.S. So once we commercialize this, there is the potential to eliminate our huge dependence on foreign oil,” he said.

Diversified Energy could play a role in developing the technology and managing the construction of a pilot plant to validate the process, Brown said.

The project conforms with the federal government’s energy policy, which includes loan guarantees, tax breaks and other incentives for coal-conversion. The company also is interested in developing largescale wind farms that could produce electricity for the nation’s utility grid, Brown said.

“What is interesting about wind is it is the cheapest renewable (energy source),” Brown said.

Despite its high cost, the company is interested in developing utility-scale solar projects and solar devices that could fit on individual homes, he said.

“There is a lot of solar technology out there, and there are a few we have in mind,” he said. “We might purchase rights or take an investment position in advanced technologies.”

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