Imagine being able to use industrial waste to heat a building. Now imagine the ability to use steam to generate electrical power. Waste products may not be the first thing we think of when we look at power, but as the future of fossil fuels is more widely discussed, steam and waste may just become the power couple of the future green economy.
In the world of industrial heating, chicken farmers are sitting on a goldmine. High in nitrates and phosphorus, chicken waste has typically been used as a farming fertiliser. This has, however, come with its own issues, such as water-course contamination from run-off, as well as transportation costs. Now, thanks to advances in technology, chicken waste, or litter, has become the fuel warming the very chickens that created it. Talk about recycle, reuse, reduce.
“Biomass is a significant area of growth for commercial industry,” says Angelo Giambrone, business development manager for Spirax Sarco UK. “As pressure from government bodies continues to mount, so too does the push towards greener, more sustainable fuel sources.”
The biomass industry has developed strongly over the past few years, and as the technologies advance, so too does the number of products that can be burned as fuel for heating.
“Biomass, biofuels, anaerobic digestion – they all encompass the concept of creating energy from sustainable sources, which can include waste products,” Angelo says. “Combustion technology is helping to drive this change, as is a rising awareness of the benefits of managing your own fuel source.”
The UK government in particular has taken an interest in the potential of biomass to contribute to the UK’s CO2 emissions targets, and has introduced the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) to encourage more businesses to invest in biomass heating systems.
“The RHI was first launched for domestic properties in 2014 and is the first of its kind in the world,” comments Angelo.
“For chicken farmers, for example, it’s like the cherry on top of an already sweet deal. Not only are they burning animal waste as an inexpensive source of fuel, but they also receive money from the government in the form of a quarterly payment.”
The RHI is open to businesses and organisations across England, Scotland and Wales but, as Angelo explains, there are a few caveats.
“You can’t stick a woodchip boiler in the back garden and claim the benefit. You have to be able to demonstrate that the biomass installation is making a valid contribution to your energy requirements.”
Where does steam fit in?
It’s all well and good to have biomass heating a building, but why would you then need steam?
Angelo explains: “Industries that implement biomass have a fantastic opportunity to increase the RHI that they receive, while generating a small amount of power for their plant.
“Generating steam instead of hot water in a biomass system allows the latest technology in electrical power generation to be used. This production of electricity from a ‘renewable’ fuel then allows users to claim a doubling of their RHI benefit. Furthermore, once the power is generated, you can convert the steam back into the hot water that you need.”
Today, steam plays a vital part in industry worldwide, from pharmaceuticals to clothing, food production to healthcare.
Angelo continues: “Combustion advances and government initiatives have now brought the hi-tech world of steam to a whole new group of users, who stand to benefit in a big way.
“You only have to return to the example of the chicken farmers to see what a difference it can make. They’re using animal waste (which they have in abundance) to generate steam that powers a turbine to provide electricity, before being recycled back as hot water to warm the chicken coop. It’s a win, win and win situation.
“Any industry can benefit from this. Adding steam to your biomass system is a greener way of turning a good opportunity into an unmissable one.”
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Spirax Sarco is a leading provider of steam and thermal energy solutions headquartered in the UK