GE's Mark Vachon: Ecomagination & Natural Gas Can Work Together

How's GE's ecomagination going?

I put that question today to Mark Vachon, who is vice president for ecomagination at GE. He replied by talking about natural gas.

"The large macro trend of gas is massive," he said. "Our oil and gas business will be a huge beneficiary."

An abundance of shale gas in the U.S., and methane gas reserves in Australia present a wealth of opportunities for GE, which plays all along the supply chain for natural gas.

Mark Vachon

"We're a massive player in gas exploration," Mark said. "We have a water business that can deal with issues in the fracking process." And, of course, GE sells lots of gas-burning turbines, including a new combined cycle power plant, currently available in Europe, that enables gas to be burned more efficiently and in concert with renewable energy. (See my June blogpost, GE's big bet on natural gas)

But can you put "ecomagination and shale gas in the same sentence? Yes," Mark said. GE will focus on making shale gas cleaner, "with technologies like zero-leak valves" and water filtration products like a mobile evaporator (pictured above) that is basically a truck (see below) "designed to enable on-site frac water recycling, reducing the volume of wastewater and fresh water that needs to be hauled to and from the project site."

Like it or not, natural gas is the big story today in the energy business. This is good for GE. It's probably good for the U.S., given our domestic supply. Whether it's good thing for the climate is very much an open question. If cleaner-burning gas plants replaces dirty coal plants, they will bring meaningful but incremental progress towards a climate solution. If cheap, abundant natural gas stalls the development of low-carbon renewable energy, or discourages investment in new clean-energy businesses, that's a problem. Chances are, it'll do both.