Heat. It’s the single largest energy use in the world.
Heating water, our homes and industrial processes accounts for more than half of all energy demand globally. Just over half of the heat produced is used in industry – most of the rest goes on heating water, homes and buildings.
Only 10% of this heat is generated from renewable sources, which means that it has a huge carbon footprint – 40% of global CO2 emissions – that needs to be tackled urgently.
And while all forms of heating have come under scrutiny, industrial heat presents the biggest challenge for decarbonisation by far.
Here are three approaches that could help defuse the impact of industrial heat on our planet.
Waste heat recovery
Europe wastes so much heat that, if recovered, it could deliver the equivalent of Europe’s total heat demand for buildings. This is based on the findings of a Danish pilot project aimed at proving Copenhagen’s ability to be carbon-neutral by 2025.
The solution could be a smart thermal grid across Europe that would harvest waste heat from sources as diverse as power plants, data centres and industrial settings.
Initially part of the EU’s Pitagoras project, ORI Martin’s steel plant in Brescia, Italy, started converting waste heat in early 2016, generating electricity and providing district heating during the winter months.
Heat that would normally be left to disperse into the atmosphere through exhaust gasses is instead channelled into Brescia’s district heating network, warming 2,000 homes. Adding to its direct environmental impact, this approach reduces both the cost of heating and electricity, as well as cutting down use of electricity from the local, fossil-fuelled power station. It also drastically reduces the total amount of water previously used to cool down the industrial process, thanks to the introduction of the waste heat recovery system, replacing the traditional water-based quench tower.
Similar industrial-scale projects are underway around Europe and the world, converting waste heat from steel, cement and glass manufacturing into power.
With the underlying technology now mature, policy support is needed to interconnect these sources to cover a wider area and to instigate new projects around the continent.