Becht Technology Review – Unusual Business Opportunities

Becht Technology Review – Unusual Business Opportunities


The process team at Becht Engineering brings decades of experience from serving in the R&D of major corporations and also from representing a wide variety of Becht Engineering clients.  We have observed and evaluated new technology from both sides of the fence…as employees or for large corporations who do R&D internally to outpace their competition, and from evaluating new technology developed externally and offered for license.

Becht Engineering has been called on to evaluate some rather unusual business opportunities.  One example was to evaluate a new process proposal made to Modern Mushroom Farms of Avondale, PA to dispose of their spent mushroom substrate (SMS) onsite and produce clean energy and/or saleable chemicals.  Mushrooms are grown world-wide and produce a used substrate that poses problems for disposal.  The usual method is to spread it on farmland to age for 1-2 years until suitable for packaging as a soil supplement.  This involves transportation and handling costs, uses valuable farmland, and can create odor and water pollution issues. 

The inventor claimed his process would work with mushroom substrate by first heating it in the absence of air in a novel pyrolysis reactor to produce hydrogen and carbon monoxide that could then be converted to energy or further refined into chemicals.  The inventor had relevant experience in the design and pilot operation of the reactor with other waste feed stocks, but our client would have to fund an expensive pilot plant demonstration using mushroom soil.  Our review included inspection of pilot unit facilities and a thorough analysis of the proposed process scheme with heat and material balances.  Based on the evaluation, our Becht team issued a comprehensive report presenting a list of issues to be resolved.  The main concern regarded a lack of relevant bench scale results to support the inventor’s claims of successful and economic conversion of SMS.  This provided Modern Mushroom Farms ( with the analysis and advice needed to guide them to a decision on whether or not to fund the pilot demonstration, at a fraction of the projected cost to develop the new process.

As in the case with SMS, medium to small refineries, chemical companies, and other technology-based businesses limit their technical staff to cover essential areas, but cannot afford to cover all relevant technical areas, and especially new technologies that could improve current operations.  Becht Engineering is able to bring a wide variety of expertise to technology reviews including feasibility studies, R&D, process design, capital and operating cost estimates, corrosion and materials analysis, and mechanical engineering support to complement a client’s technical staff.


About The Author

Mr. Vahlsing served in refinery tech service, central engineering, corporate headquarters and R&D during his career with Sunoco. During this period he developed and managed engineering and research for a wide range of new and revamped refining and petrochemical processes. He also marketed Sunoco engineering and research services when Sunoco sold manhours outside of the corporation. Dave’s role at the Philadelphia office is to match the needs of Becht clients with our staff skills, to prepare clear and mutually acceptable scopes of work and to monitor the progress of our projects to assure complete customer satisfaction. He is a graduate of MIT, past chairman of the Chemical Consultants Network, past president of the Philadelphia Squash Racquets Association, past president of the Cynwyd Club of Bala Cynwyd, PA and continues to be involved with a variety of civic organizations. Dave is a cofounder of Hydrocarbon Engineering Associates, an engineering services company that was merged into Becht Engineering. He is licensed as a professional engineer in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

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