News, Culture and NPR for Central & Northern Michigan
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
91.7FM Alpena and WCML-TV Channel 6 Alpena are off the air. Click here to learn more.

Charlevoix County company could change the oil industry’s landscape

Flicker user WCN 24/7

Have you ever driven through the countryside and noticed an oil well with fire coming out of the top?

That’s a gas flare. It burns off natural gas that’s released as a

by-product of pumping.

Those flares could have negative effects on your health and the environment.

One Charlevoix County entrepreneur this month hopes to show the world he has a solution to help reduce flaring.

“In 2007 I built a little prototype in Kalkaska”.

That’s Walter Breidenstein. He said 15 years ago he started working in his garage to create an efficient alternative to flaring.

“And once the financial collapse hit in 2008 I almost went out of business. My home went into foreclosure and my car got almost reposesed”.

But his invention survived. Breidenstein is the founder and CEO of Gas Technologies, more commonly known as GasTechno. He said GasTechno had a slow start but it has gathered some major attention.

“In 2013 the State of Michigan hired a company to do a study of all the patents in Michigan and they listed the top one hundred patented technologies. So, on the list was Ford Motor Company, General Motors, Dow Chemical, all the big companies and Gas Technologies, our company, was listed number one”.

Breidenstein said he developed a way to transform natural gas, typically flared, into a liquid fuel called methanol.  Methanol is gaining popularity as a blend stock for cleaner gasoline and diesel. Breidenstein said his process is efficient, cost effective, and sustainable. Something gas flares are not known for.

“Gas flaring is detrimental to the climate”.

That’s Bjorn Hamso. He’s the program manager for a global gas flaring reduction partnership at the World Bank in Washington D.C.

“Over the last twenty years the gas flaring has contributed about ten billion tons of CO2 emitted to the atmosphere”.

Hamso said there are about 10,000 flares on earth.Their impact on human health has not been studied.

“About 14-billion cubic feet of gas is flared everyday around the globe. For example, if this amount of gas were used for power generation it could provide about 750-billion kilowatt hours of electricity. That is actually more than the annual consumption of electricity on the entire African continent.

Many major oil producers, Hamso said, support a global gas flaring reduction initiative which aims to eliminate flaring by 2030. He said currently the primary method to eliminate gas flaring is to build pipeline, but that’s expensive. And future success depends on companies like GasTechno creating new technologies to reduce costs.

“There are not so many companies working on the methonole. What GasTechno is doing is to reduce the status from the natural gas to the finished product. And they have found a way to reduce costs which is very commendable”.

So, if you’re thinking Breidenstein from rural northern Michigan is a millionaire, you might be thinking logically. But unfortunately for him, his yellow brick road is filled with potholes.

Breidenstein set up GasTechno’s first commercial operation on the oil fields of North Dakota in January. However, he said unsupportive oil companies, bad weather, and a dwindling bank account forced him to shut down in April.

Since then Breidenstein said he’s found support from another company in Utah.

“They’ve got significant volumes of gas. So, we’ve agreed to use that gas to do a six month operational demonstration. They’re actually going to pay me to operate the plant. They’re going to pay to move the plant, cover all the costs for setup, installation, oxygen, and operational expenses”.

Breidenstein said he plans to live on site in Utah with his crew for the next six months. He said after 15 years this is exactly the opportunity he needs to show the oil industry that investment in sustainability over time saves not only money, but also the planet.