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Waste heat to power (WHP) is the process of capturing heat discarded by an existing industrial process and using that heat to generate power (see Figure 1). Energy- intensive industrial processes—such as those occurring at refineries, steel mills, glass furnaces, and cement kilns—all release hot exhaust gases and waste streams that can be harnessed with well- established technologies to generate electricity (see Appendix). The recovery of industrial waste heat for power is a largely untapped type of combined heat and power (CHP), which is the use of a single fuel source to generate both thermal energy (heating or cooling) and electricity.
Figure 1: Waste Heat to Power Diagram
WASTE HEAT TO POWER SYSTEMS
CHP generally consists of a prime mover, a generator, a heat recovery system, and electrical interconnection equipment configured into an integrated system. CHP is a form of distributed generation, which, unlike central station generation, is located at or near the energy-consuming facility. CHP’s inherent higher efficiency and its ability to avoid transmission losses in the delivery of electricity from the central station power plant to the user result in reduced primary energy use and lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
The most common CHP configuration is known as a topping cycle, where fuel is first used in a heat engine to generate power, and the waste heat from the power generation equipment is then recovered to provide useful thermal energy. As an example, a gas turbine or reciprocating engine generates electricity by burning fuel and then uses a heat recovery unit to capture useful thermal energy from the prime mover's exhaust stream and cooling system. Alternatively, steam turbines generate electricity using high-pressure steam from a fired boiler before sending lower pressure steam to an industrial process or district heating system.
Waste heat streams can be used to generate power in what is called bottoming cycle CHP—another term for WHP.1 In this configuration, fuel is first used to provide thermal energy in an industrial process, such as a furnace, and the waste heat from that process is then used to generate power. The key advantage of WHP systems is that they utilize heat from existing thermal processes, which would otherwise be wasted, to produce electricity or mechanical power, as opposed to directly consuming additional fuel for this purpose.
The Opportunity for WHP
Industrial energy use represents the largest potential source of WHP generation.2 In 2009, the industrial sector used the largest share of energy in the United States, accounting for more than 28 Quads, or 30 percent of all
1 Title 18: Conservation of Power and Water Resources; Part 292—Regulations under Sections 201 and 210 of the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978; Subpart A – General Provisions, 292.101 Definitions.
2 Waste heat streams in other segments are generally either too low in temperature (power generation) or too small in volume (commercial and residential) to represent viable WHP sources.
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