Energy from waste heat a valuable commodity
The world thrives with energy. More energy means more power, which means more consumption of everything. Why would a country, which loves to supersize its meals, trucks, and homes, let its most precious commodity – energy – escape and not try to capture it?
Throughout the United States, waste heat is an abundant source of emission-free power that is being overlooked. Waste heat is a byproduct of industrial processes that is released to the atmosphere through stacks, vents, flares and mechanical equipment.
If captured and used to generate emission-free renewable-equivalent power, waste heat could reinvigorate American manufacturing, create jobs, lower the cost of energy and reduce overall emissions from electric generation, according to Kelsey Southerland, director of government relations for Houston, Texas-based TAS Energy and executive director of Heat is Power Association, the advocacy organization for the waste heat to power (WHP) industry.
“It's just such a great opportunity for the U.S. that it seems like such a no brainer,” says Southerland who started the Heat is Power Association three years ago. “WHP has the potential to help our industries from shutting down and going overseas by using technology that is made in the U.S. and keeping environmentalist happy with emissions free power.”
What is Waste Heat to Power?
WHP is the process of using recovered waste heat to generate electricity with no combustion and no emissions. Anywhere there is an industrial process that involves transforming raw materials into useful products – steel mills, paper plants, refineries, chemical plants, oil and gas pipelines, and general manufacturing – heat is generated as a byproduct.
This waste heat is produced whenever the operation is running, often 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. If not recovered for reuse as lower temperature process heat or to produce emission free power, the heat will dissipate into the atmosphere, which is a wasted opportunity, according to Southerland.
Waste heat to power systems use the same technologies as geothermal and solar thermal systems to capture heat at the source and convert it into electricity with no combustion and no emissions.
Steam turbine technology has been used for WHP systems since the 1970s. More recently, technologies based on the Organic Rankine Cycle, Kalina Cycle, and the Sterling Engine, proven in the geothermal and solar thermal industries are being used to capture waste heat at lower temperatures and at smaller scales than the more traditional steam cycles used in the power industry.
“Waste heat to power isn’t new, yet it is often overlooked and is underdeveloped,” Southerland says.
Thermoelectrics, high pressure CO2 working fluids and other new developments are creating additional opportunities for waste heat to be converted into useful power. Through the application of these technologies, industrial waste heat is no longer just a byproduct – it is a resource for emission-free electricity, just like traditional renewable energy.
“As a manufacturer of WHP technology, we know there is an incredible opportunity for creating new jobs, generating more emission-free power, and expanding U.S. exports around the world,” says J.T. Grumski, president and CEO of TAS Energy. “It is an economic form of clean energy.”
A Source of Renewable Energy
Heat that is no longer needed in an industrial process is often vented through stacks, released into the air, or, if it contains hazardous gases, burned in a flare. The waste heat requires no other fuel and no combustion to generate power and releases no emissions. Waste heat is the only energy source for this power, not natural gas or any other fossil fuel that may have been used in the industrial process.
Because it is an emission-free, combustion-free resource that is generated around the clock at industrial operations, the Heat is Power Association advocates waste heat be treated as a renewable equivalent resource, according to Southerland.
Fifteen states – California, Colorado, Connecticut, Indian, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah, and West Virginia – have legislative and regulatory policies that treat waste heat as a traditional renewable resource. Additionally, WHP has been endorsed by the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners in their 2013 “Resolution Supporting the Inclusion of Waste-Heat-to-Power Technologies in State and Federal Clean Energy Policies and Programs.”
Why is WHP Not Used More?
Although the resource is abundant and the technology is readily available and proven, waste heat to power continues to be underdeveloped. One of the main reasons is that without government and regulatory support for WHP as an emission-free resource, WHP is forced to compete with conventional sources of power at prices often fewer than 5 cents per kilowatt hour.
“WHP cannot compete with other renewable resources that receive investment and production tax credits, or without access to long term power purchase agreements that many IPPs and traditional renewables have,” Southerland says. “Wind and solar never would have developed without subsidies from the government – it’s same with this technology.”
For instance, since the 2006 inclusion of a federal investment tax credit for solar power in the U.S. tax code, that industry has grown by 800 percent.
Given equal tax treatment, industrial waste heat could provide enough emission-free electricity to power approximately 10 million American homes, provide hundreds of thousands of new American jobs, and support critical U.S. manufacturing industries, according to Southerland.
“Turning waste heat to power would cut pollution and make industry more competitive, yet it is the only clean energy technology that the government does not encourage through tax incentives, putting it at a disadvantage in the marketplace. It’s about time recycled energy was given a fair chance to compete,” says Dick Munson, senior vice president, Recycled Energy Development.
HIP’s Next Move
The Heat is Power Association’s focus includes bringing the global industry together for networking, education, and shared data resources, as well as for a united, consistent and effective advocacy effort for WHP in the United States on the state and federal level.
“On the advocacy front, our efforts include educating policy makers, regulators, and energy and environmental stakeholders about the barriers to deployment of WHP technologies and advocating for fair and equivalent treatment of WHP,” says Southerland.
“WHP uses the same technology that is used in geothermal plants and they receive a 30 percent tax credit to use it, but if we put WHP technology on an industrial plant we get no tax credits – it's ridiculous,” Southerland says. “With more coal plants retiring there is going to be a power void and if we need more power, why don't we look at WHP as a clean energy opportunity. Waste heat is power – let’s capture it.”
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