DOE targets steam and process heating

In October, the U.S. Dept. of Energy (DOE) launched “Save Energy Now,” an initiative that will individually look at 200 of the most energy-intensive industrial sites in the nation. Jim Quinn, lead technology manager, industrial energy systems for DOE’s Office of Industrial Technologies, Washington, D.C., expects the chemical industry to account for the largest number of plants studied. Companies can now apply to have their plants considered.

For any plant selected, DOE will provide at no cost a specialist to lead a team from the operating company to assess potential savings. The team will focus on steam and process heating — because these services account for almost three-quarters of energy use by industry, says DOE — and will identify specific opportunities for energy savings. The team will rely heavily on already available, free DOE software tools.

DOE now is pulling together a group of about 30 so-called energy saving experts to lead the efforts. Drawn from sources such as consulting and engineering firms, these specialists already have experience in optimization of steam or process-heating systems. They undergo a two-to-three day training program on the use of the DOE energy-assessment software and must pass a qualifying examination. Each expert will conduct from three-to-10 plant assessments, says Quinn. DOE will pick the person to handle a specific site based on the expert’s background, location and availability, he notes. The rest of the team, which will get some training on the software tools, will consist of staff from the plant or elsewhere within the company. Indeed, he notes, DOE is particularly seeking companies that operate a number of similar plants, so that the insights gained at the one plant can be leveraged more broadly across the company.

The expert will gather preliminary plant data before visiting and then will spend two-to-three days on-site with the team. There is no specific protocol that must be followed, says Quinn, because plants vary so much. On the last day, the team will present its analysis and make recommendations to plant management, with a formal report to follow a few weeks later. By participating, a company is obliged to consider these recommendations but not bound to implement them. However, the typical payback period for many is so fast that plants undoubtedly will want to follow through on them, he adds.

DOE began pilot assessments in early November, the first at a 3M plant in Brownwood, Texas, says Quinn. At that site, a number of energy-saving opportunities were identified, including the use of waste heat from furnaces instead of steam for heating makeup air. In all, six industrial facilities — including chemicals plants of 3M, Dow, JR Simplot, and Rohm and Haas — are in the pilot program, which should finish by the end of this year.

The first “official” assessment should start in January, and all 200 should be completed by the end of 2006, reckons Quinn. He adds that there’s a strong probability that the program will be continued, but there are no specific plans to do so yet.
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