Waste heat a hot commodity for ElectraTherm

The people at ElectraTherm in Reno are on a mission to show the world how waste heat can generate clean power.

The 10-year-old renewable energy company has pioneered advances in technology that generate fuel-free and emission-free power from low temperature waste heat, which is a byproduct of industries transforming raw materials into products such as steel and pulp/paper mills, refineries, chemical plants, oil and gas pipelines, and general manufacturing processes.

As an example, a furnace or boiler produces hot exhaust, where it is usually expelled through a stack into the atmosphere. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the industrial sector uses one-third of the total energy consumed today and there is enough waste heat from these industries alone to generate an estimated 15,000 megawatts of electricity. The Waste Heat to Power Association estimates between $20-$60 billion dollars annually of energy is lost because of inefficiencies.

ElectraTherm President and Chief Financial Officer Steve Olson said this emerging cleantech sector is in the early stages of development but there is major global growth potential. A market analyst report last spring states, “The waste heat recovery market is expected to grow at a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 6.5 percent over the next five years to reach $53,120 million by 2018. Asia-Pacific, with its flourishing economy and rapidly expanding industrial sectors will demand for larger amount of fuel efficient equipment resulting in the highest growth during 2013 to 2018.” Cement and glass manufacturing industries are expected to be likely early adopters of the new technology.

Tax incentives will drive market growth as well. Presently three bills in Congress would grant as much as 30 percent investment tax credits for properties using waste heat to power.

Named Energy Company of the Year this year by Nevada’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology, ElectraTherm — which started shipping product in 2011 — currently has 51 Power+ Generator systems in place in the U.S. and Europe with 12 more in the works for this year and total runtime of 410,000 hours. Olson indicated that current revenues are in the range of “several million dollars.”

ElectraTherm systems are based on the industry standard Organic Rankine Cycle, which, according to its website, “use an organic working fluid that has a boiling point less than that of water to convert low-temperature heat into mechanical work … which is then converted into electricity.” ORC is combined with proprietary technologies to meet the specific industrial requirements of customers — two-thirds of which are presently in 12 European countries, Olson said.

As the U.S. demand for economical clean energy solutions grows and they gain more brand recognition, he anticipates substantial new opportunities, particularly because they continually refine their technology and have demonstrated results in a range of applications including internal combustion engines (their main market), biomass boilers, solar thermal, geothermal/co-produced fluids and the oil and gas industry.

The company is on a path to expand into new markets, such as landfills, waste water treatment plants and natural gas compression.

Research by Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory suggests there are tens of thousands of oil and gas wells in the U.S. that co-produce hot water at optimal temperatures that can be deployed with ElectraTherm technology to generate electricity. Additional opportunities for new business in oil and gas are in what Olson calls “flare to power,” which captures and converts natural gas burn-off in oil fields.

This month the company will partner with Houston Advanced Research to demonstrate alternatives in North Dakota’s Bakken region, which has experienced a huge oil and gas boom since 2006. State energy analysts report that roughly 29 percent of natural gas produced in the Bakken is wasted due to it being viewed largely as a nuisance byproduct with virtually no infrastructure to manage its use efficiently.

Government agencies are likely customers for ElectraTherm as well.

“The Department of Defense operates thousands of diesel engines on military bases and in the field,” Olson explained. The company has recently announced a project with the Navy that “will make the engines 10 percent more fuel efficient and replace the radiators, reducing capital costs and the energy needed to cool by 40 to 50 percent.” They are calling this their first “radiator with a payback” of three years or less. The product, a combination of diesel engine and electric generator, will be used at the large naval base in Guantanamo Bay. Over the course of several years the contract will result in more than $1 million in DoD funding.

Closer to home, in the future Nevada could benefit from ElectraTherm’s technology substantially. The company has already produced an application at the “Big mining operations that run big engines,” Olson said. But there is also considerable potential in the smaller geothermal operations not served by the larger Nevada operations such as Ormat. Right now ElectraTherm is starting on a project in Northern California at the Surprise Valley Hot Springs Resort in Cedarville.


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