Transcript: Space4U podcast, John Olver
Written by: Space Foundation Editorial Team
I am Carah Barbarick with the Space Foundation, and you’re listening to the Space4U podcast. Space4U for you is designed to tell the stories of the amazing people who make today’s space exploration possible. Today, we are joined by Dr. John Olver from Emisshield. Dr. Olver is the President CEO and Founder of Emisshield incorporated located in Blacksburg, Virginia.
He is the recipient of a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering from Lafayette College. He continued his higher education at Virginia Tech, where he received a master’s and doctorate degree in engineering. He is a registered professional engineer in numerous states and a member of various professional organizations.
In the early 1970s, Dr. Olver started over incorporated and over laboratories incorporated. His company served major corporate clients throughout the world on environmental and chemical engineering matters. And provided complete environmental testing, pilot, plant evaluations, chemical engineering process, design confirmations, and biological monitoring.
Dr. Olver founded a large privatization company in 1991 and served as president until 2001. When it was sold to private investors, he currently serves as a managing partner of Emisshield, a real estate management company. The doctor over is also a managing member of a company which provides pipeline condition monitoring in oil fields and petrochemical plants.
Dr. Olver has published many technical articles on the environment, chemistry, physics, and heat transfer, and has over 20 patents or patent applications in numerous industries. Welcome Dr. Olver. It’s a pleasure to be here, Carah. Thank you for having me. You are clearly an entrepreneur and a man of many talents.
Well, I, I do enjoy starting companies and, and moving science and engineering forward and technology. And that’s been kind of my history with various companies. And one of the most exciting ones has been starting Emisshield and taking a NASA technology and getting it out to the public. So it can be used in ways other than just a space travel.
So it’s been exciting. So what led you to founding Emisshield? We were looking to commercialize, uh, without going into a lot of research and we were looking for a research that had already been done. And through that we perused department of defense, NASA, and other, and we found a technology that came out of the program called protective ceramic coating.
And we called Moffett Field, California and NASA Technology Transfer. And the rest became history. We licensed the technology from NASA and we then went embarked upon about two years of detailed studies to improve the technology from where it was and the X 33 program. And we advanced it into applications and metals ceramic fiber.
Refractory and most recently textiles. So we thought when we saw this initial technology, that it had great potential and in a broad area and has proven to be the case. Tell me a little bit more detail. What does the technology do? The passivity is a concept defined as a, every body in the world. Any object has an acidity and a reflectivity and EAM acidity is the ability of a body to absorb radiant heat and then reradiate it at different wavelengths.
So it can be used in heat shields. It can be used and cooling of power lines. It can be used in and thermally enhanced and clothing. So. What it really does is high emissivity materials came out of the space program. A lot of people didn’t understand what the word emissivity meant and what it means to today, to us and to utilizing it in our many industries is we’re enhancing the thermal performance.
Be it heating or cooling of any material, like piece of metal. Uh, it could be a piece of refractory in a furnace. And so what we’re really doing is taking the technology from NASA and making composite materials and structures that enhance cooling and or heating up for an industrial process or everyday use and clothing or anything like that.
So it’s all about heat and heat transfer. Which is obviously a major concern for NASA. What solution did this technology provide for them? It was originally designed to replace the space shuttles heat shield, which was reaction cure glass, the X-33 X-34 needed something more robust for that.
And so a Moffett Field, California and Langley, Virginia worked on about 10 years plus studies to improve upon the, the space shuttle’s original heat shield, and came up with a protective ceramic coating. And from there we took it and advanced it even further. And so even doubt today, we continue to. To be actively involved in aerospace and in things like rocket nozzles to keep them to temperature the nozzle down and flying in outer space, we’re in satellites and things like that.
So we truly have continued what NASA wanted us to do, which was not just commercialize it and take it into petrochemical and food processing and that, but to utilize it in, in the aerospace industry. And so we’ve advanced it. And we believe we now have some products that a lot of our clients and aerospace like to use our products and we’ve kept it very simple.
We did not want to do two things. When we advanced this technology, we wanted it to be environmentally friendly. Uh, we didn’t want any hazardous materials or any organics and it, we, so we kept it water-based and we wanted it to be able to be applied by simple techniques, nothing exotic like a chemical vapor deposition or something like that.
So we have, we have succeeded in both of those and you can now code our products with simple devices. You could buy from a hardware store and apply them as long as you have the metal clean or whatever your coating is properly cleaned. I had no idea that you had done all the background on being environmentally friendly and making it so simple.
I, I guess I just assumed it would be a very complex. No, it’s, it’s quite simple because we have to be able to ship our product around the world. We have installers around the world that are. We have certified and trained. And when it arrives, they have to take it out into a plant setting, for example, in a petrochemical plant in Saudi Arabia, as an example, and they have to be able to apply it inside a furnace or on.
Process to relatively easily and make sure it works. So yes, spent a lot of time making it simple and keeping it simple so that it could be used in areas. Uh, other than just a plan application we have, many of our applications are in, in our plants. We have a production plant, but 90% of our applications are out in the field.
So they’re actually carried on planes or trains the material is and the equipment to apply it. It has to be easy to do. And we also have to be able to cure it very quickly and easily in ambient conditions of outside, under anything from very hot conditions in Saudi Arabia to cold conditions in the winter.
So it’s a pretty broad range that we work in and the application process. You know, you talk about shipping it around the world and all these different places. So obviously emissivity is important here on earth. What are you helping with your product? We’re in heat transfer and cooling. So people think, when you say the word, a high emissivity material, you realize that it can help you and heating or cooling.
And I’m going to give you two examples, a normal refractory in a, in a refinery, a wall is, has burners that are natural gas and you’re heating up crude oil to make it into. Gasoline diesel fuel, et cetera. And the refractory surface in there is very poor at re-radiating heat to the tube. So by coating the refractory, we then make the refractory give about 10 to 20% more energy efficiency, more energy goes to the tube.
So what does that all mean? I can make, we can, as a result of coating on a refractory wall, you can make more gasoline. Cheaper with less energy. So you’re making it also therefore with less CO2 emissions. So that’s one example of on the heating side. On the cooling side, we have a patent, uh, with another company on cooling power lines, these large power lines, you see crisscrossing the United States.
Uh, they get about 200 degrees centigrade in the summertime, they heat up. And when they heat up, they become very inefficient at transporting electricity and we lose a lot of electricity to heat and we want to really push it on to the consumer and to, to use as there and not lose it from the power plant to the consumer.
So if we can keep the line cooler. Then we can transport more power and less is lost and it can go to the end-user ran by coating the outside of the power line. Just the outside. We can keep it about 30% cooler, which means you can put about 30% more energy over into the transportation to get it to the consumer.
And therefore you become more efficient in your power grid. So would this prevent things like your brown outs that you, it would help? Yeah. Would help because a power line sag when they get very hot in the summertime and winter, the demand for electricity is up and therefore the temperature line goes up and if they sag and then they hit a tree and ground out, then you have brown outs.
So yeah, this is a, another way of just taking a high technology and coating and aluminum conductor and making that conductor more efficient. So everything we do, uh, I stress the words we’re making. What are existing materials, more efficient, thermally, be cooling or heating and whatever it might be.
And when you take this into textile, we were approached about eight years ago and said, would we work in textile at first? We said, yes, but no, because we said, we couldn’t quite imagine how we were going to explain emissivity into textiles. So, uh, we made powders of, uh, high passivity materials that came out of the NASA license and we made materials that will allow a T-shirt to be warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer, we’ve done glove inserts.
We’ve done parkas. And so you can, you don’t see as big a difference, but if the human body sees about a 5-degree Fahrenheit improvement in warmth or on a piece of clothing or cooling, that’s significant, the body says, oh, whatever you’re wearing, boy, this thing really works much better thermally.
And so we’re adding that and we’ve put, been able to put the powders into a fiber so this is very nanoparticles we’ve made and then spin it into as a yarn. And we’ve also been using it as coatings onto fabric. So there’s a broad range of areas that we focus on, but our primary areas are what we call chemical process industries, which are petrochemical, refining oil, refining.
We’re heavily involved in, in that we’re in glass plants throughout the world. We’ve done about 170 plus glass plants where you melt glass. And by making, putting the coatings on the interior of the glass plant, it becomes more efficient. So, and then we’re in iron and steel and we’re right now doing a lot of work, just starting into the ethanol business, uh, help an ethanol plants make a gallon of ethanol with less fuel, uh, less, less natural gas.
And we’ve completed one project and we’re hoping to work with all the major ethanol suppliers in the United States and around the world. This is just so many areas that you’re covering. And again, like you said, who would have thought it could go into textiles? Okay. It is. And we even have a patent on baking breads.
And I think, uh, you know, one of the hardest things we’ve had in starting EMA shield is to not chase shiny objects. Cause there’s, there’s a great tendency to say, well, this would work over there. And yeah, it probably would, but we, we have to stay focused with where we will grow the most. And what. The biggest impact.
So that’s been one of our biggest challenges, but yeah, we, we are in baking and we improve the performance of large commercial baking ovens. And we have patents on that. So we we’ve been involved in a lot of areas, but we stayed basically in petrochemical, iron, and steel, and then obviously glass. And we do that worldwide and we are the only material out there.
There are some other different types of high emissivity materials that are, that have been formulated out of Oak Ridge and that, but we’re the only one out of NASA. And we’re the, one of the only ones that is, that are high temperatures, very high temperatures that we can take that came out of the space program.
And I would point out that when you look at the license that we got from NASA, they studied about a hundred plus compounds of high emissivity. And can you imagine the combinations of weight of each of those that you can put together to invent new products? So one of the things that people always ask me is how advanced is the technology completely matured from the research and development side.
Or where are you? And I usually answer that by saying, well, we’re about 30% into it. Now we have still have things, there are compounds we haven’t tried yet that were in the original license. We know about them. We also have been excited. We have ongoing research and development. We find we can improve our existing products.
And that’s what we’re all about to try and stay ahead of the curve, but also to come up with new ideas that will even work better than the old ones that we had. So our product advancement is a, it’s kind of along the lines of like you see the iPhone, how it’s advanced, and it has a different number. We actually used a different numbering system on our products to show clients that, hey, this is product 5, but this next one is 5.1.
So you can look at it and say, oh, 5.1 must be better than 5. And the answer is yes, it is. So you just continue to innovate and never stay stagnant. You’re just constantly improving what you’ve already done and creating more. Yeah, the combinations of EMA acidity agents that you can and fillers and binders that you can put together in making a new product, as we call it is quite broad.
There are probably a hundred thousand different products you could make. Obviously we’re not going to do that, but we’re we right now at about 40, and we’re taking some of those that, that have been around, uh what’s. What is, what is good to know? Some of the products we invented 15 years ago are still some of the best.
But some of the others we have advanced forward by, by changing particle sizes, the amount of the passivity agent in a particular formulation, and that gave us a new product and new performs. Can you give us a, maybe a sneak peek into anything your R&D has coming? We’re now advancing some things in flare systems around the world to make the flares last longer.
And we’re working with some major company to give longevity to the flares and increase their performance. Cause flares are used throughout, uh, oil and gas production all around the world. So we’re, we’re advanced that we’re advancing some things on satellite nozzles and we’re also advancing some things in petrochemical.
And what, what does all that mean? Well, if we can, if we can improve combustion efficiency and the transfer of heat in any furnace, we’re going to be able to make whatever that. Product is that furnace is making whether it’s bread or iron and steel or a petrochemical like ethylene, we’re going to be able to make that per ton of product add lower fuel costs.
And if I have that lowers fuel costs, then we fit right into sustainability and global warming issues on greenhouse gases because we’re making a ton of whatever product might be with less energy. And so that’s some of my background is it has been obviously an environmental engineering. And so makes me feel good too, that we’re, we’re, we’re doing our fair share for the environment while doing neat high emissivity materials.
To me, it sounds like you’re almost double dipping in the environmental area because your product is something that helps with it. But then the product itself is also environmentally friendly, right? So the ethanol industry, if we can, if they’re they’re already green or for ethanol and gasoline, and if they can say that they can make a gallon of ethylene with less energy.
Now they’re even more sustainable. They can say it to their consumers or to their users of ethanol. We’re making our gallon of ethanol with less fuel and less CO2 emissions. I hear you talk about a lot of different applications. And to me it feels like you’re, you’re really not a one size fits all company.
You’re really taking each customer’s need and adapting to their challenges that they present you. We’ve had a lot of different, uh, applicants. We, we believe in helping a lot of what we call original equipment manufacturers come to us and we don’t want to get into making lights or making whatever they’re making, but they come to us and say, is it reasonable that if I applied high MCV material or incorporated one of these materials into.
What I’m making that I could make it more efficiently, that it would perform better. Heat management is always something that people are looking at to improve, whether it be a race car or whether it be a rocket nozzle or a light. So anything with heating and cooling people are always, uh, looking to make their, whatever.
Uh, light or whatever thing they’re actually making more thermally efficient. And so we help people there and we don’t get into making lights or automotive. We help them make a better thermally efficient car or whatever it might be, or the product is they’re making. That’s what, that’s what our focus is.
And in those cases, we simply supply the material, teach them how to apply it. In their production and then they can utilize it. Then we even allow them to, to change the name around for me, in the case of fabric, Emisshield, it says, if you look at a tag on our fabrics, it says, are a which sub-license with, with the foundation, uh, powered by Emisshield.
So not everybody wants to use a machine, which is fine with us. As long as we get credit that is powered by us at some point. I like that phrasing powered by that’s literally what we’re doing. In many cases, when we were developing these technologies and adding onto the research at NASA, I ran into a lot of wonderful people at NASA that helped us and NASA is just a class act and we still are friends with all, a lot of them today.
One of the original inventors of the PCC still works with us. So there there’s a lot of wonderful technologies that come out of NASA that need to be brought into everyday use, not just space flight itself, but can we take these technologies, which is what we’re trying to do and make the world a better place.
There’s so much out there waiting to be taken and done like what you’ve done. Well, thank you. And thank you for having us on this podcast for you. I appreciate it very much. And that concludes this episode of the Space Foundation’s Space4U podcast. You can subscribe to this podcast and leave us a review on Podbean, Apple Podcasts, and on Google Play.
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