Do the processes in your plant
generate heat? With energy prices soaring, maybe it’s time to put that heat to
That’s the general idea behind
Recycled Energy Development (RED), a Chicago-based corporation with a simple
idea: Use the high-temperature exhaust of your processes to boil water, and
then use the steam to generate electricity. RED’s CEO, Tom Casten, was
interviewed recently on, of all places, National Public Radio. NPR is best
known as the drive time radio station of choice for Washington’s political
insiders, but his message is one that should appeal to people of any political
In brief, Casten argues that
energy recycling is a huge, untapped resource that’s available right now. His
company cites EPA and DOE studies that indicate recycling presently wasted
energy could generate nearly 200,000 megawatts of power, which amounts to roughly
20 percent of U.S. electricity usage.
There are several ways to do this.
One is by making use of the heat of the waste energy streams typically
associated with many industrial processes (metals, glass, chemicals etc.). A
second is by using waste gas as a fuel instead of merely burning it off in a
flare. A third is by using a high-pressure waste stream to directly drive an
electricity generating turbine. Plants that are doing this are saving millions.
The bonus: Since these approaches
require no new fossil fuel to be burned and produce no greenhouse emissions,
they are as green as solar or wind power. And they make a lot of business
Are there drawbacks? Of course,
because this is the real world, not utopia. The first is cost, or more
accurately, scale. When I talked to RED spokesperson Dick Munson, he told me
that their low end equipment, sold by an associated company, was in the $50,000
– $100,000 range, which is not exactly an impulse buy for a small manufacturing
firm. Most of RED’s deals are at the multi-million-dollar level.
The other drawback is that,
ironically, many energy recycling approaches are illegal, or carry regulatory
baggage. For example, if you generate electricity this way, you can’t just sell it on the grid. And if you’re a
utility with a coal-fired power plant, you really can’t make any modifications without
being subjected to new, more stringent regulations, which is a huge
disincentive to say the least.
The idea of exploiting the heat
generated by industrial processes (or engines, for that matter) is not new. And,
globally speaking, it’s not uncommon. NPR reports that Demark gets over 50 percent
of its electricity via recycled energy. The Netherlands and Finland obtain
about 40 percent, and Germany comes in at 35 percent. The U.S. figure? Eight
There’s clearly an opportunity
here. If you’re a manufacturer, take a look around your plant for ways you
might benefit from heat energy that’s simply dissipating into the atmosphere
now. And if you’re an entrepreneur, get busy working on low-cost energy
recycling products for the SMB market.