California is ground zero for the development of modern renewable technologies in the United States, many of which are looking to shape the industrial sector as we move deeper into the energy transition. Renewable natural gas (RNG), landfill gas (LFG), carbon capture utilization and sequestration, thermal energy storage systems and hydrogen technologies are changing how we think about industrial projects, power, and how they intertwine.

PCL’s Bakersfield Industrial district has kept one ear firmly to the ground as many of these technologies transition from dream to reality. Buoyed by a strong brand and a reputation for quality and efficiency, Bakersfield has already gained significant experience with various emerging technologies. The challenge, according to president and general manager Joe Carrieri, has been discerning which technologies are worth pursuing, and which are merely pretenders.

“The challenge is to figure out what developers and technologies really have a shot to move to market,” Carrieri says. “A lot of smart people have great ideas, but we’ve got to be careful to not consume our resources in areas that won’t bear fruit at the end of the day. That’s easy to say, and hard to do.”

Shepherded by California’s ambitious decarbonization goals, including a target of 100% renewable electricity by 2045, Bakersfield has already made serious headway in the surging renewables market, having gained valuable RNG experience with California Bioenergy’s Renewable Natural Gas Project. PCL was responsible for the engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) of new conditioning plants at 12 dairies, which convert methane waste from cows into renewable natural gas for Southern California’s natural gas vehicles fleet. CalBio’s digesters now operate at more than 50 dairies throughout California. Collectively, they significantly offset petroleum-based fuel consumption and already reduce CO2e emissions by more than one million metric tons per year, with even greater reductions projected in the years to come.

Numerous other projects have filled out Bakersfield’s bulging renewables portfolio, including landfill gas and thermal battery storage systems in California, Minnesota and Ohio. According to engineering manager Corey Hartwig, this initial experience has come with its share of challenges and tough lessons, but it has only primed the Bakersfield team for bigger and more complex projects.

“We’ve graduated from the school of hard knocks,” Hartwig says. “We’ve put together more than 60 of these facilities and have taken them from concept to commissioning—from imagination to reality, really. We’ve gone through some growing pains, and we’ve learned a lot. Many other contractors have yet to discover some of the things that we’ve already addressed and accomplished.”

In the early going, the commissioning phase for these projects took as many as six to eight weeks, but more recently they have reduced commissioning to two weeks for major facilities, and as little as four or five days for smaller projects. Hartwig points to EPC contracts and Bakersfield’s ability to self-perform electrical, civil, and mechanical as major factors in refining budgets and schedules, as these have helped simplify communication and reduce confusion over the course of the project. 

“We’ve looked at what makes a good project great and what makes a good project not so great, and it always comes down to relationships and communication,” Hartwig says. “When you have PCL as your EPC partner, you benefit from fewer points of contact and close lines of communication between our engineers, our procurement teams, and our contractors.”

Having crossed paths with Bloom Energy on CalBio’s dairy farm projects, PCL was exposed to some of the cutting-edge technologies that are primed to shake up how industrial projects are powered in the future. CalBio’s dairy digester technology combines with Bloom’s Energy Server® technology to create an end-to-end solution that diverts the emissions-heavy biogas into a solid oxide fuel cell and converts it into power without any combustion. The project has won numerous awards and was featured in a six minute mini film as part of BBC StoryWorks Humanizing Energy series. Bloom touts its technology as the world’s most efficient electricity generator, producing twice as much electricity as a conventional combustion generator.

After beginning as a NASA technology to convert Martian water to breathable oxygen and hydrogen power, Bloom’s Energy Server has now secured earthly deployment at data centers and corporate campuses for the likes of Google, Honda, and Wal-Mart. Bloom also uses heat from their Energy Server as part of combined heat and power (CHP) systems, bringing greater efficiency to a variety of industrial applications. Bloom’s fuel cell platform is also well-suited to be a key partner for carbon capture projects. 

Alongside CalBio, PCL supported its first ever successful application in a biogas project, from which PCL emerged with crucial experience and a lasting relationship with Bloom for future projects in the clean energy space.

“We are a solutions provider,” Carrieri says. “Clients appreciate the fact that we’re not afraid to sit at the table and learn about their business, understand their technology and, if necessary, bring partners to the table that will bring the solutions where we aren’t able to. They need to know that we’re there for them, and that we’re not afraid to take on big challenges.”

In addition to navigating the world of renewable fuel cell and battery storage technologies with the likes of Bloom and others, Bakersfield Industrial is also supporting Mainspring Energy’s push to apply its novel high-efficiency, low-emissions linear generator technology to industrial projects across North America. This fuel-flexible generator can convert natural gas or biogas into sustainable power and is being deployed in a variety of commercial and industrial environments, including landfills, farms, wastewater treatment facilities, and for several Fortune 500 companies such as Kroger, Prologis, Lineage Logistics, and AEP. PCL is already working with Mainspring to install its innovative linear generator at dairy biogas facilities and industrial projects throughout the US, and the teams have worked to develop a repeatable playbook allowing them to work efficiently on future projects.

Looking further ahead, carbon capture and sequestration and hydrogen technologies increasingly dominate discussions on how to safely and cleanly power our most vital industries while reducing the world’s dependency on oil. Whichever technologies eventually float to the top and became viable, Hartwig is looking forward to the opportunities to flex his engineering experience to account for whatever comes next.

“There is no shortage of new tech emerging to answer some of these big energy questions,” Hartwig says. “It’s up to us as industry leaders to look at them from an engineering perspective and identify how to reduce costs, add value, and ultimately improve the revenue stream at the end of the day.”

Having been with PCL for more than 25 years, Joe Carrieri has certainly seen all the success that oil and gas has brought to himself, his team, and the company, but that’s not to say he’s grown too comfortable. He recognizes that times are changing and so, too, must Bakersfield Industrial. While his district looks to continue expanding its reach across the United States largely on the back of upstream oil projects, he’s excited to see his teams flourishing as we evolve toward more renewable technologies.

“Diversification has been our secret sauce for the last decade,” Carrieri says. “We’ve done fairly well pivoting from primarily upstream oil and gas into several new market sectors.” 

“Our business is going to look very different in five or ten years. What got us here in the last 20 years is likely not going to take us through the next 20 or 40 years. It’s an exciting time in Bakersfield.”