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September 12, 2013

Researchers working on waste heat recovery

By Mara Biggs

The character of Ohio was built long ago by industry. The state has perpetually been composed of real, resilient people from culturally diverse backgrounds who aren’t afraid to work hard for their living, factories and mills whose vital signs are in their billowing smokestacks, which dust over a landscape rich in natural resources – an aesthetic coined endearingly as “Rust Belt Chic.” Manufacturing companies are still some of the biggest employers in the state, utilizing the latest skills and technologies. Since 2007, Forbes has ranked Ohio as one of the top five states for new industrial jobs.

Industry is a major part of Ohio’s past and present, but its future seems threatened by the necessity to reduce carbon emissions and meet new EPA guidelines for steam and heat generation, which have created additional costs for manufacturers. Manufacturing companies will also experience an increase in the wholesale cost of electricity in the coming years on top of the extra expenses they now face in meeting the new EPA requirements.

Andrew Thomas, Iryna Lendel, Sunjoo Park, Ned Hill and Bill Bowen, researchers at the Center for Economic Development and Center for Energy Policy in Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs, have been working as a team on a solution that addresses both the economic issues threatening Ohio manufacturing and the air pollution problem that manufacturing imposes on the region.

According to the staff members, this accessible and reliable solution is something called distributed generation, which would be useful for regional manufacturers in the forms of waste heat recovery and combined heat and power.

Waste heat recovery is the process of recycling heat from steam, hot streams and waste water to preheat incoming gas used in production. Waste heat recovery lowers fuel and energy demands as well as costs for manufacturers, and increases the overall plant production.

Combined heat and power, or CHP, is another recycling process in which a heat engine is used to simultaneously generate electricity and heat from heat that would have been wasted. CHP is becoming more widely used around the world as the efficiency of its systems has increased and the cost of the systems has decreased. This method has all the same benefits for manufacturers as waste heat recovery. If implemented, both CHP and waste heat recovery will keep by-product gases, a culprit of global warming and poor air quality, from escaping into our clean air through smokestacks by reusing the gases in the production of materials.

Andrew Thomas, J.D. said in a report for the Ohio Manufacturer’s Association that distributed generation can be utilized by companies to meet EPA mandates and as an answer to rising electricity charges and the costs of complying with environmental regulations. However, Ohio’s general assembly is impeding on manufacturers’ ability to put these practices into play.

It was only until last year that companies could use CHP and waste heat recovery to fulfill EPA requirements for efficient and renewable energy and be given financial assistance for doing so. Before Ohio Senate Bill 315 was signed in June 2012, manufacturers had little incentive to use the distributed generation methods. Senate Bill 315 allows companies to count CHP as an energy efficiency and to count waste heat recovery as both an energy efficiency and renewable energy source, allowing companies to receive grants, loans and rebates for using these methods. The trouble though is that the language of the bill places so many limitations on manufacturers in converting to the distributed generation processes, that doing so has become more of a headache than manufacturers are willing to deal with.

“In essence, they’ve created a bill that was supposed to help CHP [and waste heat recovery] but can’t because of the way they wrote it,” said Thomas.

Perhaps the biggest drawback for manufacturers though in employing waste heat recovery and CHP are the sky-high standby fees they must pay to utility companies to ensure they can use a power grid as backup in the event that their heat engine goes down or has scheduled maintenance.

“If the legislature does not do something to try to make it easier for people to build CHP [and waste heat recovery] in terms of reducing standby fees, than CHP [and waste heat recovery] will have a hard time taking off,” said Thomas.

Enabling distributed generation to take off is crucial for Ohio’s economy and climate, and would make breathing in the state a little safer as well. With a governor that has been active in pushing new environmental policies, there is hope that the terms of Senate Bill 315 may be reviewed again and that much-needed changes may be made, facilitating Ohio to revolutionize its authentic industrial character and keep the state reveling in all the glory of its Rust Belt.