Bill Rice shunning retirement, leading CerX
By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
Bill Rice is my kind of retiree. It’s just not for him, at least right now.
The Western New York native ended a more than 30-year career with Alcoa at the end of 2012. Rice’s last position was as Vice President of Mining, but he held a number of different production, sales and management roles as he lived around the world.
After retirement, he became involved in SCORE and is serving as an advisor for the “Entrepreneurship and Innovation” capstone class for full-time MBA students that Glenn Swift and Pat Richardson offered each spring semester at the University of Tennessee.
One can sense that Rice was itching to get back into the game, and he found the opportunity in an entrepreneurial undertaking that requires him to maintain homes in both Knoxville and Johnson City.
Today, he is President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of CerX LLC, a company based in Johnson City that traces its heritage to Industrial Ceramics Solutions LLC (ICS), itself a start-up located until its closing in the Oak Ridge Entrepreneurial Center on the Tech 2020 campus.
“After the closure of ICS, we executed a technology license with the company’s shareholders and restarted as CerX in April,” Rice said. The principals are Alex Borla, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Borla Performance Industries Inc.; Dick Nixdorf, former President and CEO of ICS who is now Chief Technology Officer of CerX; and Rice.
The technology that is the basis of the CerX product is the same one that ICS was commercializing – a patented ceramic fiber filter, but the financials are far different and the customer focus more limited.
“We don’t have the overhead of ICS,” Rice says, noting he is the only full-time employee. In typical entrepreneurial fashion, he does everything including making many of the filters.
“Our production is set-up inside Alex’s facility,” Rice says, adding that he can draw on Borla’s employees on an as needed basis.
Those are two of the factors that have enabled CerX to operate in the black after just nine months in business.
“There are clearly problems that need solutions in high temperature gas filtration,” Rice says, noting that the biomass industry is one such target sector due to the process by which the biomass is gasified. “There are filters people use to remove the impurities, but none are perfect.”
That’s one opportunity that CerX is now actively pursuing. The traditional mechanical filtration process used in the biomass sector is not as efficient as the option that CerX provides. The latter’s product attracts particles to the ceramic fiber in its filters.
CerX’s high-temperature ceramic cloth filters have the capability to withstand up to 2,200o F and can capture ultrafine particles in high temperature exhaust streams. In addition, Rice says that they can be regenerated by combusting organic matter while the filter is still in place.
“Our filters allow people to clean the syngas from the gasifier to power the turbine generator without cooling the gas,” he says, adding, “That’s a huge value. This is an application that people get excited about.”
Another application that CerX is supplying involves providing filters to a California-based company that is capturing methane from largely closed landfills. In addition, CerX continues to work on diesel applications.
“We are looking more toward niche applications rather than one for every model,” Rice says as it relates to diesel possibilities.
The former corporate executive turned entrepreneur says he is excited about commercializing the technology and is inspired by the impact on the environment CerX products can have.