Plants Thirst for Energy Efficiency

Current economic conditions aren’t quenching efforts to achieve savings.

By Seán Ottewell, editor at large

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“We think this is a real opportunity missed. Any project to make a significant improvement to climate change will be a huge capital investment. Such investments are not properly supported by current U.K. government grant support schemes and NEPIC companies have been lobbying intensively to make this point,” notes Stan Higgins, NEPIC CEO.

Sembcorp’s CHP plant, one of two it owns at Wilton, distributes steam to chemical plants around the area. “We understand the steam output will get some free allowances for the first few years but that will diminish over time. Unfortunately, the power, which is produced at the same time as the steam, will not get any free allowances, which could mean higher costs,” says a company spokesman.

Carbon Leakage

At the same time, the risk of producers shifting factories, jobs and emissions to other parts of the world — so-called carbon leakage — is generating heated debate within the EU.

Carbon leakage is being blown out of proportion, contends Karsten Neuhoff , an economist at Cambridge University, Cambridge, U.K. “The industry claim to the extent that they argue [that climate policy] has a big economic impact I think is exaggerated. There is no evidence so far that [industries] responded to a more ambitious European climate policy by thinking about moving somewhere else,” he says.

Jean-Pierre Clavel, president of Eurogypsum, a Brussels-based trade association of European manufacturers of gypsum-based products, counters that carbon leakage already is occuring. “[Carbon trading] creates for investment decisions an uncertainty. My business is €400 million [∼$528 million] and it employs 14,000 people in the world with, let's say, more than half of it in Europe. So we look at the additional cost of this and it is very significant. It will be about 10% of our profit in a good situation. Right now, with the profit going down due to the depression, it will be 20% to 25%.”

A further sign of Europe’s ongoing focus on energy-related matters came to the fore in early January when the European Parliament’s Industry, Research and Energy committee called for a Europe-wide reduction in oil demand of more than 50% by 2050.

Finer Focus
While industry and government don’t share the same viewpoint on such broad energy-related issues, they do seem to agree on the need for more research on specific areas that can help save energy. For instance DuPont, Wilmington, Del., is calling for greater collaboration between industry, government and universities to accelerate the development of sustainable alternative energy solutions.

“Universities and national laboratories in the United States have a critical role to play in addressing our serious energy challenges,” says Uma Chowdhry, the firm’s senior vice president and chief science and technology officer. “The challenges we face can and must be solved.”

Speaking at the opening of the new University of Delaware Energy Institute, she called on the federal government to set a long-term energy strategy, increase investment in energy research and development, and take bold actions to secure the country’s energy future.

Chowdhry wants the federal government to further encourage the sort of collaborations that already are occuring.

For example, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Ames Laboratory, Ames, Iowa, are working with other research labs, universities and industrial partners to develop low-friction nanocoatings.

“If you consider a pump, it has a turbine that moves the fluid,” says Bruce Cook, an Ames scientist and co-principal investigator on the four-year, $3-million project. “When the rotor spins, there’s friction generated at the contacting surface between the vanes and the housing, or stator. This friction translates into additional torque needed to operate the pump, particularly at startup.”

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