published Sunday, January 6th, 2013

Breathe easy: High-tech pollution controls keep Cleveland plant busy

Nicole Wigfall, left, and Terry Cheatem work on the extrusion line at the Cormetech manufacturing plant in Cleveland, Tenn.
Nicole Wigfall, left, and Terry Cheatem work on the extrusion line at the Cormetech manufacturing plant in Cleveland, Tenn.
Photo by John Rawlston.

Company at a glance

Name: Cormetech Inc.

Headquarters: Durham, N.C.

Local operation: Production plant and two warehouses in Cleveland, Tenn.

Owners: Corning Inc. and Mitsubishi

Products: Selective catalytic devices to cut nitrogen oxide emissions.

Installed capacity: 1,300 SCR systems installed around the world.

Staff: The company has more than 280 employees, including about 100 in Cleveland.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. — As revelers around the world rang in the new year last week, the workers and robots on Cormetech's factory floor here continued their around-the-clock production of a key element to help many people breathe a little easier.

"We shut down for 47 and a half hours on Christmas Eve and Christmas, but other than that we're a 24-7 operation every day," said Denise Rice, the director of operations at Cormetech's Environmental Technologies plant in one of Cleveland's industrial parks. "We set up some TVs in the break room for workers to watch some of the bowl games on New Year's, but we kept production going."

Cormetech, a joint venture between Corning Inc. and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, is starting its 13th year of operation here in full production of its selective catalytic reduction devices. The giant honeycomb-shaped catalyst of titania-based ceramics help remove nitrogen oxide pollutants from coal- and gas-fired boilers to help utilities, oil refiners and industrial customers meet tighter pollution emission rules.

With new EPA regulation deadlines looming in the next two years regarding mercury emissions from coal plants, the company also expects another technology it began manufacturing a year ago to help boost future business.

Despite the shutdown of some of America's oldest coal-fired plants, Cormetech is keeping busy here helping clean up many of the coal plants still in operation.

"We see a steady business for our Tennessee operation from the U.S. market, and there are certainly opportunities for more growth around the world," said Scott Daugherty, Cormetech's vice president for business development.

Cormetech, which began in Durham, N.C., in 1989, is the only U.S.-based maker of SCR catalyst. The SCR equipment is used to cut NOX emissions not only for coal and gas-fired boilers but also for stationary diesel engines, marine diesel equipment, refineries and major industrial boilers.

Cormetech equipment has been installed in more than 1,300 units around the world.

Cormetech was lured to Cleveland in the late 1990s by the Tennessee Valley Authority, which has bought Cormetech SCR catalyst to limit NOX emissions at 21 of its 59 coal-fired units across its 7-state region. TVA plans to install four more SCR systems to limit emissions at its Gallatin Fossil Plant near Nashville and is considering more pollution controls at other facilities, TVA spokesman Scott Brooks said.

SCR systems help cut more than 90 percent of the nitrogen oxide emissions that would otherwise be emitted from a typical coal plant, according to TVA.

Cormetech has twice expanded the Cleveland factory it bought in 1999 to begin making SCR catalyst. The local plant and two nearby warehouses employ more than 100 employees and contractors, who control the automated extrusion, drying and cutting operations that create the titania-based ceramic honeycombs.

The devices act as a chemical catalyst for ammonia and nitrogen oxides to be converted into inert gases and water, rather than smog-producing NOX, Rice said.

The plant is being aided this year by its third incumbent worker grant from the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. The state is giving the pollution equipment maker $12,475 to provide training to help associates learn about root cause analysis of problems within the plant. The state previously funded maintenance training by other employees.

For its part, Cormetech earned the state's top business recycling award in 2010 for programs to recycle nearly all of its product as well as recyclable products brought to the plant by Cormetech employees.

"We put a real emphasis on training and safety of our employees, and we're fortunate to have a relatively low turnover of workers," Rice said.

Cormetech is the only U.S.-based producer of SCR catalyst, although it has plenty of competition from other producers of such equipment around the globe. A world map at the entrance to the factory floor here shows Cormetech-built equipment in dozens of coal plants in Europe, Asia and the Americas.

Cormetech added about 30 employees after introducing a mercury control technology in 2011 known as the COMET (Cormetech Oxidized Mercury Emissions Technology). Cormetech was one of the first companies to introduce a mercury control technology for coal-fired power plants and the company is the only one with a mercury testing reactor in its world class laboratory, which it maintains at its Durham headquarters.

Rice, who grew up in Rochester, N.Y. near the headquarters of Eastman Kodak, coaches her employees on the value of continuous improvement and product innovation.

"We have to continually get better and adapt to the market," she said, noting how Kodak lost its way when it didn't move away from film photography quick enough.

To help keep employee skills up to date, the typical Cormetech employee gets more than 39 hours a year of training, or nearly one week a year of assistance in developing new skills.

"We pay a competitive wage, have excellent benefits, do a lot of training, and fortunately our turnover is very low," she said.

about Dave Flessner...

Dave Flessner is the business editor for the Times Free Press. A journalist for 35 years, Dave has been business editor and projects editor for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, city editor for The Chattanooga Times, business and county reporter for the Chattanooga Times, correspondent for the Lansing State Journal and Ingham County News in Michigan, staff writer for the Hastings Daily Tribune in Nebraska, and news director for WCBN-FM in Michigan. Dave, a native ...

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