Waste Heat Recovery: The Next Wave of Clean Tech

The terms replaceable energy and clean technology conjure up certain images. It could be a photovoltaic panel baking in the desert, or perhaps a wind turbine slowly rotating in the Great Plains. Or, already a enormous dam generating hydropower. However, there is another important and growing clean energy technology the average consumer often hasn’t heard of however: waste heat recovery.

Waste heat recovery employs a course of action that has been around since the 1960s, called the organic Rankine cycle (ORC), which easily integrates into existing manufacturing infrastructures. ORC units capture heat that is currently being released into the air and converts it into useable CO2-free electricity.

The ORC course of action uses organic, environmentally benign refrigerants that are able to produce electricity from low-temperature heat supplies and in water-restricted environments. ORC technology has a small footprint-approximately the size of a tractor-trailer flatbed. Interest in this energy generating skid is on the rise as companies look to maximize the efficiency of existing investments and infrastructures.

This technology has a proven track record with more than 150 installations in operation around the world-including 25 in the US-that have produced millions of hours of emission-free electricity. Given its relative simplicity, carbon neutrality and diminutive physical footprint, ORC is also one of the cheapest supplies of replaceable strength generation currently obtainable. The economic benefits of waste heat recovery systems are meaningful when compared to wind or solar strength generation. ORC’s utilization factor of more than 95% far eclipses the 25% to 35% utilization factors seen in other replaceable solutions like wind and solar.

The market for waste heat recovery is virtually limitless. According to researchers at University California Berkley, the US currently consumes about 100 quadrillion BTUs of energy per year. However, between 55 and 60 quadrillion BTUs are currently vented into the air as unused waste heat. With ORC technology, these emissions are harnessed on-site to generate useable CO2-free electricity that is fed directly back into a manufacturing course of action. Pulp and paper, lumber, refinery, cement, and strength plant operations are especially well suited for waste heat recovery systems since they consume large amounts of electricity and continue consistent waste heat flows with temperatures between 400° F and 800° F.

A wave of new focus and project development activity has occurred as a consequence of rising energy costs, growing environmental concern, and improvements to the ORC manufacturing course of action. Today’s new systems are modular, customizable, easily deployed, and economical to the facilities that deploy them.

The rise of independent project developers and new financing models have also helped accelerate customer adoption of waste heat recovery systems. Project developers shoulder the responsibilities of designing, engineering, constructing, and operating the ORC systems for their industrial customers. Additionally, project developers can offer customers financing options that allow resource-constrained organizations to analyze the myriad benefits of waste heat recovery projects. Popular financing options include the buy of a complete turnkey strength system, leasing the system, or simply purchasing energy produced from a system installed at their site. The latter form, often referred to as the “PPA form” (because the customer enters into a strength buy Agreement), relieves a company of capital expenditures and significantly shortens the sales cycle for new ORC systems. After all, who can say “no” to an offer of clean electricity, at a lower price than the utility can deliver, without any capital investment?

Facility managers, environmental experts, and forward-thinking legislators are beginning to recognize waste heat recovery as a win-win clean energy solution. Now it is time to get Congress to pay attention to this replaceable energy “hidden gem” and recognize waste heat as a replaceable resource eligible for tax and environmental credits. By tapping into existing but unused energy supplies, American companies can reduce energy spending, reduce carbon footprints, and reduce dependence on non-replaceable supplies of energy. And that’s why waste heat is about to become a lot more applicable.

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