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AEP honors five Generation engineers for receipt of patent

by on July 24, 2013
Mark McCullough (far left), executive vice president - Generation, congratulates a team of AEP engineers who were awarded a U.S. patent for the Large Particle Ash Mitigation System. Shown are (left to right): Chao Lin, Jeff Hofacre, Tom McCartney and Darren Hanby. Not shown: Jim Silk.

Mark McCullough (far left), executive vice president – Generation, congratulates a team of AEP engineers who were awarded a U.S. patent for the Large Particle Ash Mitigation System. Shown are (left to right): Chao Lin, Jeff Hofacre, Tom McCartney and Darren Hanby. Not shown: Jim Silk.

(Story by Rachel Hammer)

AEP has received U.S. Patent Number 8,425,850. It is for the Large Particle Ash (LPA or popcorn ash) Mitigation System developed by a team of five engineers.

The employees are Chao Lin (lead inventor), Jeff Hofacre and Darren Hanby, all of Air Emission Control Equipment; Jim Silk of Project & FGD Engineering, and Tom McCartney of Applications Engineering & Balance-of-Plant Mechanical Equipment.

AEP recognized these engineers’ efforts at a celebration and awards event July 19. In addition, the patent will be noted with a plaque displayed with others on the mezzanine level at AEP’s 1 Riverside Plaza facility in Columbus.

“I am incredibly proud of what these individuals have achieved,” said Mark McCullough, executive vice president – Generation. “Many people may think that we simply buy environmental control equipment ‘off the shelf,’ plug it in and it works. That is rarely the case.

“In this case, the obstacles to successful operation of the plants, after equipment installation, were very large. This team demonstrated great creativity and perseverance as they solved this major operational challenge,” McCullough continued. “They developed a solution that brings great honor and recognition to themselves and to AEP. Another first from the AEP Team. Truly outstanding.”

The technology was featured in an AEP Now article in November 2010. It addresses LPA buildup on the upper layer of selective catalytic reduction (SCR) catalyst. The buildup caused pluggage that restricted air flow. This affected both unit efficiency and the SCR’s ability to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions.

AEP has installed mitigation technology on the units at Clifty Creek and Kyger Creek stations. These plants are owned by the Ohio Valley Electric Corporation (OVEC), in which AEP has an ownership interest. AEP and OVEC now have collected three years’ worth of operating data on the systems. AEP has no current plans for additional installations.

“It is great to see that Engineering Services has talented people looking for creative new solutions to issues across our fleet. Congratulations to all of them,” said Tim Riordan, vice president – Engineering Services.

About the patent review process

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office awards patents for significant leaps in technology, not just the next logical step in technology advancement, explained Tony Swaneck, senior counsel – Legal. Swaneck coordinates many of AEP’s intellectual property activities, including patent applications.

AEP currently holds fewer than 10 active patents. Prior to this award on April 23, AEP last received a patent in 2008. AEP has six applications pending, so the company is experiencing a bit of an uptick in activity eligible for patent protection, Swaneck said.

AEP filed its application in December 2010. With a 28-month time frame from application to award, it fell in line with the Patent Office’s estimate of about 31 months. Two accelerated processes – both with estimated assessment times of 12 months – are available. AEP is trying one of the accelerated examination processes with one of its pending applications.

The application process begins with the inventor(s) preparing a disclosure, a detailed summary of the invention. Swaneck tells employees that the disclosure should be on the same level of detail and quality as they would provide in a technical paper for an academic journal. Inventors also describe how their invention is unique relative to existing technology.

A two-part application prepared by the attorney follows. First, is a document that discusses current technology, describes the invention and provides a detailed description of its use. The second part is the Claims. This is a legal description of the invention and provides information that is similar in many ways to the restrictions found in a deed of property. The Claims describe the parameters against which any patent infringements would be measured. They also help assure that the boundaries of the new invention do not overlap those of an existing technology.

Patent examiners are assigned to technology groups so they have some familiarity with the technology being reviewed. The patent examiner often asks questions or requires additional information. Swaneck said it currently takes about three rounds of questions and answers to complete the examination.

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