Read books about sustainability. Reading with your child is one of the true joys of life. There are so many wonderful children’s books focused on sustainability that can leave a lasting impression.
As part of my series about companies who are helping to battle climate change, I had the pleasure of interviewing Richard MacPherson.
Richard MacPherson is the President and CEO of ME2C Environmental since 2016, where he oversees the expansion, development, and commercialization of the company’s proprietary emissions control technologies across the fossil-fueled energy sector. His corporate vision for ME2C is that of an environmental technologies firm focused on sustainable, highly effective emissions control technologies across the energy sector. Richard is an active member of multiple professional industry organizations, including the International Clean Air Committee (ICAC), Southern States Energy Board (SSEB), PRB Coal Users Group, Edison Electric Institute (EEI), and IPAA (Independent Petroleum Association of America).
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My professional career began in the late 1980s in the Canadian telecom industry. I worked with a small startup company that reached a great level of success during the boon of this market. Through my network at that position, I gained an interest in the energy sector and learned about new technologies that were being introduced. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, I was very focused on the oil and gas markets, which was predominant in Canada at the time. Through these resources, I became acquainted with the University of North Dakota’s Research Center, which was leading R&D efforts for mercury emissions control solutions in the early 2000s. I found their cutting-edge research very exciting and decided to form Midwest Energy Emissions Corp in 2008 to commercialize their patented mercury capture technologies. By 2017, ME2C obtained all of the patent rights for these technologies. Last year, we rebranded to ME2C Environmental, and to date, we have expanded upon these patents, improved processes, and continue to develop technologies for the coal-fired power sector.
What is the mission of your company? What problems are you aiming to solve?
ME2C Environmental has been keenly focused on addressing environmental concerns for the U.S. energy sector. While energy is a major tenet of the current U.S. administration, power generation has been a considerable environmental issue for decades. Since 2008, we have supported coal-fired utilities with our patented mercury emissions capture technologies, which are currently in use by more than 40% of the U.S. coal-fired fleet. Over the past decade or more, we have played a significant role in reducing toxic mercury emissions into our environment. While coal power is becoming more streamlined — as older, less efficient utilities are shutting down — it will remain a major player in our power generation mix for many years to come.
Going forward, we are excited to focus our expertise in chemisorption, or sorbent technologies, in two new areas. Firstly, to help clean up coal ash ponds and wastewater; and second, to improve the processing for rare earth element extraction from said coal ash. As background, coal ash is a byproduct of mercury emissions and high-quality coal ash is widely used across the world in heavy industrial and transportation industries. Low-quality coal ash has been dumped for decades into ponds owned by utilities. The harmful contaminants in the coal ash, which include mercury, arsenic, and others, leaches into the soil and water streams. We believe that the coal ash pond problem is the largest environmental issue facing the U.S. today! Currently, there are over 1,100 coal ash ponds in more than 37 states across the U.S. While these coal ash ponds are heavily contaminated, they are also rich in rare earth elements. The current administration is working to create domestic sources of rare earths; however, the processing of the extracted rare earth elements is currently outsourced to other countries, mainly China. This makes our solution not only environmentally friendly, but strategically important to the United States as well.
ME2C Environmental has been more than a supplier to the utility industry since our inception. We work as business partners with coal-fired utilities to optimize their operations to allow for a higher level of sustainable, environmentally-friendly energy output. Our clients use far less material than alternative approaches to mercury emissions capture and balance-of-plant-impacts are minimized with less corrosion. We have developed very strong relationships with our utility partners and look forward to expanding on these relationships as we provide critical solutions to their coal ash pond and wastewater remediation challenges in the future.
Sorbent capture technologies allow for a highly-elegant and cost-effective approach to remove harmful toxins from air, soil, and water environments. These are global concerns that affect the energy sector across the world. While our approach to mercury emissions capture is the leading technology in use across the U.S. coal-fired sector, our mission is to become the leading environmental technology partner for the energy sector both in the U.S. and abroad.
Can you tell our readers about the initiatives that you or your company are taking to address climate change or sustainability? Can you give an example for each?
ME2C Environmental is actively working to combat climate change through the energy sector. With our mercury emissions capture technology widely implemented across the U.S., we began looking at an ancillary technology that would provide significant environmental benefits to coal-fired power generation. In 2019, we began a collaborative partnership with Dr. Scott Drummond to develop a new sorbent technology aimed at wastewater remediation. Our R&D efforts expanded this technology focused on wastewater to coal ash and rare earth extraction. In early 2021, this partnership formed a new entity, Eleclear, to act as the commercial arm of these collaborative technologies. In 2021, we continued our R&D efforts of this new sorbent technology with Penn State University’s Center for Critical Minerals due to the University’s stronghold in rare earth element research. The sorbent technology currently under development and that we are working to introduce commercially to the energy sector by early 2022 is showing promising results in capturing these rare earth elements from the ore. We expect that our technology will be effective in processing these minerals in a variety of applications, from mining to coal ash.
Our chemisorption expertise might also be beneficial in capturing methane emissions. Methane is inherently difficult to capture due to its composition, but we are looking at an approach to address this concern for the oil and gas industry as well.
Outside of our technology efforts, we are also actively involved with industry and government associations, such as the SSEB (Southern States Energy Board) and the EEI (Edison Electric Institute), and are invited to speak at many leading industry conferences. We believe that strategic networking with top leaders in both the private and public sectors creates a stronger alliance, which is needed for enacting broad-scale change to improve the climate.
How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?
ESG is becoming a global standard for major corporations to carry out more sustainable operations effectively and conscientiously. In meeting the four pillars outlined in ESG, companies are often able to reduce costs and operational risk while reducing their environmental footprint.
For example, within our own operations, ME2C has been engaged in sustainable practices for many years and we have saved significant resources as a result. We manufacture our sorbents in Corsicana, TX, where we are also headquartered. Our inventory management and transportation methods are carefully controlled to minimize overhead and lower costs. Many of our employees work remote, which reduces our overhead expenses and lowers employees’ daily transportation requirements. As a team, we all operate under the mindset that small steps, when taken together, can lead to a big impact.
The youth led climate strikes of September 2019 showed an impressive degree of activism and initiative by young people on behalf of climate change. This was great, and there is still plenty that needs to be done. In your opinion what are 5 things parents should do to inspire the next generation to become engaged in sustainability and the environmental movement? Please give a story or an example for each.
1. Model stewardship. In this world and starting with your community, be a caretaker. Something small such as picking up litter on a sidewalk or joining a conservation club or starting a career in an environmentally-focused area can culminate to make a big impact.
2. Share with your child that being a driver of change does not always require big steps. We cannot all be Jeff Bezos or Richard Branson, but individuals can create shifts in behavior on a small scale. When I hike, which I love to do in Scottsdale, AZ, as well as Nova Scotia where I am from, I love seeing signs that read “leave only footprints,” which are gentle reminders for all of us to be mindful of our environment, as well as perhaps the philosophical footprints that we leave behind.
3. Never stop learning. It may sound cliché, but success largely comes from continually being open to new ideas, gathering new information, and actively working to understand what you don’t know.
4. Plant a garden together. By having your child by your side as you plant and grow vegetables, flowers, etc., you can help them have a new appreciation for our environment, and one they can take with them into adulthood. My wife and I have always had a small garden wherever we have lived. We have dined at the finest restaurants yet, honestly, our best meals are those with ingredients from our garden prepared at home.
5. Read books about sustainability. Reading with your child is one of the true joys of life. There are so many wonderful children’s books focused on sustainability that can leave a lasting impression.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
1. Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. This works in your personal life but especially in business. Successful leaders are not experts in everything, but they know how to retain experts and bring people together. Personally, I enjoy having friends who know more than me in certain areas — your life becomes richer by not always being the smartest person in the room.
2. Get your hands dirty. I came to where I was after having a successful role as an executive in the telecom industry in the late 1990s. I shifted to the energy sector as the telecom market became more saturated. Creating a startup company is exciting in many ways, and I spent a couple of years doing the physical work that was needed from mixing batches of sorbent, to loading and transporting our product to power plants. In my experience, understanding all areas of your business, and being willing to do the work required, is a major key to achieving success.
3. Work in time for yourself. In my early years, working up to the executive level, I worked 24/7. Even though work is still very important to me, and I commit a lot of time to it, I also make sure to work in time with family, friends, and to unwind. I enjoy projects at home, work that requires sheer labor, to help focus and sustain energy to be successful in business.
4. Get involved in professional organizations. Participation in your community, whether it be your school, city, or a broader level is crucial for both business growth as these groups provide the opportunity for strong relationships and create visibility for yourself and interests. I am an active member of several important industry organizations such as the International Clean Air Committee (ICAC), Southern States Energy Board (SSEB), and PRB Coal Users Group and also ensure that ME2C is represented at major industry conferences where we are often invited to speak. These memberships have provided invaluable relationships and have allowed me to better understand my industry and role from different perspectives. Through government partnerships, associations such as the ICAC and SSEB have provided the opportunity to interact with representatives and legislators who are focused on energy sustainability.
5. Be open to learning new skills. It’s important to always be open to learning new skills. Although my education was based in math and science, my professional experience was planted within the telecom industry; I was certainly not knowledgeable about mixing carbon and how to best achieve reductions in mercury emissions. Through professional contacts coupled with a keen interest in learning about systems to improve our environment, I recognized a need in a burgeoning market in the early 2000s. Knowledge of coal-fired boilers and how to manufacture sorbents was not an existing skillset at the time but one that I was open to learning and one that has served me well since then.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My wife of 25 years keeps me grounded and brings me a lot of joy. I could not imagine enjoying the success that I have achieved without her. On that same token, I am extremely grateful to my management team at ME2C. We created a company from nothing in the early 2000s — equally, John Pavlish, Jim Trettel, and myself put in the work and created ME2C into the successful company that it is today. I am so proud of this team and what we have accomplished together.
You are a person of great influence and doing some great things for the world! If you could inspire a movement that would bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would like to inspire a movement around using less energy. This would make a significant impact if corporations around the world made it a focus. And there are simple things that people can do in their own lives — from shutting off lights to replacing light bulbs with ones that are more energy efficient to adjusting your thermostat when you are not home — that may seem small but can be impactful.
What is the best way for people to follow you on social media?
ME2C Environmental is active on Twitter at @me2cenvironment. Both the company’s and my own LinkedIn pages are also good resources:
This was so inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!