Producing enough heat to power a furnace or kiln requires a tremendous amount of energy. As we all know, energy isn't cheap, and wasting heat energy means that you're ultimately wasting money. Building heat recovery into your production process doesn't just make good environmental sense, it gets the most bang out of your buck.
At the end of the day, cost is what drives many of our business decisions. While being environmentally conscious is important to many of us, it is only as important as it is affordable. With that said, building a heat recovery system into your production can be a business decision that helps you two-fold.
As business mentalities shift, notoriety (the good kind) is more and more important than pure profitability. Consumers are looking for businesses that can tout choices that benefit their communities, whether it's at a regional or global scale, and a sense of morality that benefits the common good.
Heat recovery benefits the environment by keeping waste heat from profoundly affecting the environment. Wasted heat energy is one of the primary contributors to the "urban heat island”, which is a phenomenon where industrial activities contribute to the heating of their urban surroundings. When your business takes action against these effects consumers will notice.
While the upfront cost of a heat recovery system isn’t cheap it is a system that will, through time, pay for itself. Think about the heat your kilns and furnaces produce. What if you were able to recycle that heat, thereby using it again and again?
An efficient heat recovery system means you rely less on initial energy and more on existing energy as a heat source. Like a snowball rolling downhill, heat recovery builds and eventually becomes a primary source of renewable energy for your production line.
Heat recovery isn’t so much about heating the atmosphere but about wasting heat we’ve already produced. To put it simply, if the energy has already been produced, then we should use all of it. One pass through the system does little to reduce the amount of potential energy. A few passes, however, means you’ve thoroughly used that source of energy and got your money’s worth.
While the global demand for energy surges, so too does the responsibility for business owners to recycle their heat energy. Just as you wouldn’t throw away pounds and pounds of perfectly good food without first giving it to those in need, so too should you think twice about where all that wasted energy is going. As it stands now, we waste about 70% of the energy we produce.
To put thermal recovery into layman’s terms, you’re essentially taking the heat produced by an energy source and either diverting it to a second system that uses that heat or reintroducing it into the system for re-use until the amount of energy diminishes to the point where it is no longer a viable resource. Thermal recovery systems are the energy equivalent to finding another way to use that plastic bag from the grocery store. In essence, it’s asking the question, “This resource hasn’t been fully utilized, what else can I do with it?”
While thermal recovery, when boiled down (no pun intended), is a seemingly simple solution to the problem of wasted energy, it comes with rather complicated recapturing solutions. Thankfully, the engineers among us have found some efficient ways of reusing that energy and have built intuitive systems that we can introduce into our production workflows.
The heat that would otherwise be wasted can be used to heat incoming fluids such as water. A great example of this is a heat exchanger. With a proper heat exchanging system in place, the already-hot water leaving a facility can be used to warm incoming water. The already-warm water then requires less energy to be heated.
This system can even be used at home; think of your hot shower water passing through a heat exchanger located near your water heater. It would take less energy for your home water heater to reach its temperature if the incoming water source has already been warmed from your hot wastewater via a heat exchanger.
There have been systems developed that turn wasted thermal energy into electricity for decades. One of the most popular processes is called the “Cyclone Waste Heat Engine”, which uses the steam produced by waste heat to produce electric power. This process is known as “cogeneration”.
Cold district heating is the most straightforward system for reusing waste heat. To put it simply, it's a system that directly recycles heated water and uses that energy to heat a system filled with water at ambient temperature. Consumers within this system are both consumers and producers of energy. This system is great for something like a high-rise apartment building. The aspect that makes cold district heating stand apart from pre-heating is that the system can move the heat energy from water and swap it to a second system, which allows a cold district system to produce heat and cooling simultaneously.
Not taking advantage of wasted thermal energy means ignoring a huge source of energy. While wasted heat effects the environment, it’s also extremely wasteful in an era where we demand as much energy as we do. Why waste a resource that is in such high demand?
Whichever one you choose, installing a waste heat recovery system into your production line can go a long way to long-term cost savings, moving your business toward a more environmentally-responsible future, and building a reputation as a thoughtful company.