AMECS faces challenge from rival developer
The potential commercialization of AMECS is complicated by a patent infringement dispute between Ruben Garcia and a company called Clean Air Engineering-Maritime Inc., which is conducting a pilot test of a barge-mounted exhaust capture system at the Port of Los Angeles.
Clean Air Engineering-Maritime was formally founded in 2009 by Nicholas Tonsich, who served as president of the Los Angeles Harbor Commission for several years last decade.
According to documents from a Feb. 27 hearing before the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Tonisch once represented Garcia’s Advanced Clean-up Technology Inc. as an attorney and was an early business partner with Garcia on the emissions control project. Tonisch broke off on his own in 2006 and began using ACTI’s intellectual property and trade secrets to compete directly with ACTI, Garcia claims.
In 2012, the Port of Los Angeles awarded a $1.5 grant from its technology advancement program to help fund a Clean Air Engineering pilot at the Trans Pacific Container Service Corp. (TraPac) terminal. Under the agreement, TraPac is to contribute $1 million and the remaining $8.5 million is to be funded by Tonsich.
ACTI claims Clean Air Engineering violated its patent on a barge-mounted exhaust capture system. Clean Air Engineering-Maritime denies the claim and counters that it has modified the ductwork that attaches to a vessel’s smokestack.
In an interview, Tonsich said he filed a pre-emptive motion for summary judgment against ACTI to prove his exhaust capture system doesn’t infringe on ACTI’s patent. Clean Air Engineering-Maritime uses ceramic filters, an inverted funnel that doesn’t grasp onto any of the exhaust outlets and doesn’t incinerate waste. Hovering over the smoke stack appears to be the primary differentiator between the rival systems. Tonsich claimed there doesn’t need to be an airtight fit because the negative pressure on the unit’s fan sucks in the exhaust, like a furnace hood over a stove or in a laboratory.
The ash-based waste collected by the filters is disposed at a hazardous material site, he said.
A ruling is expected by October.
Tonsich said he is waiting for CARB to give final approval for protocols to test his barge-based system, following previous testing of a land-based system. His company has done preliminary testing on five to six vessels. Once CARB gives the go-ahead for final testing, Clean Air Engineering-Maritime will have to demonstrate its capability on five vessels over 250 hours. Testing, submittal of data and CARB review could be completed by the end of the year, he predicted.
A CARB spokesperson said the agency would not comment on the Tonsich evaluation, citing a confidentiality agreement. The agency doesn’t publicly discuss its technology certification work until certain milestones are reached or a pilot project is completed.
Tonsich said he anticipates his single barge, assuming it is certified, will work exclusively at the TraPac terminal for third-party carriers with vessels that do not use shore power to comply with the air regulations.
This article was published in the September 2014 issue of American Shipper.
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