Improved thermal utility systems can save money, lower downtime, reduce safety risks and ultimately, reduce carbon footprint.
by Doug Bloss, CEO of Armstrong International
The time to lower carbon emissions is now. We need a combination of individual actions and industrial change to slow carbon emissions. Currently, major companies across the globe are answering the call to cut carbon emissions, announcing groundbreaking carbon-neutrality goals. These necessary changes will happen during the next few decades, but knowing where to start is the real challenge. I propose the answer is optimizing, minimizing and decarbonizing thermal utility systems.
Why thermal efficiency?
While simply switching to renewable energy sources is the most straightforward way to lower carbon emissions, the reality is the transition to clean energy does not happen overnight. Furthermore, many companies rely on nearby energy producers for their power needs and cannot switch to clean energy until their provider does. However, once those providers do so, companies must be ready.
To prepare for a clean-energy future, companies should first focus on becoming more energy efficient. In the short term, using less energy means less cost. While still reliant on carbon-based energy sources, it also means lower carbon emissions. In the long term, optimizing a factory for efficiency will help ease the adoption of renewable energy. In the modern industrial world, using less energy to produce the same output is the way forward. Think of it like updating your home’s furnace and air conditioning systems to more energy-efficient units.
The thermal energy sector uses 50% of global final energy, while heating and cooling produces 39% of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Renewable Thermal Collective. If the thermal sector can improve, industrial companies will make strides towards a carbon-neutral future.
How to improve thermal efficiency
An efficient thermal utility system maximizes the energy used and minimizes the energy lost. The best way to accomplish this is through optimization, minimization and decarbonization of a facility’s thermal utility infrastructure. These three steps are key to achieving overall carbon-emission goals, with each interacting and depending on one another. Beginning with optimization, companies can improve the thermal efficiency of their facilities significantly, helping in the short term while preparing for future decarbonization and renewable energy.
At the basic level, optimizing a facility or factory provides a low-risk, low-investment solution to decreasing energy consumption to lower costs and carbon emissions. It’s a no regret first step towards decarbonization. At its core, optimization encourages industry leaders to adopt a circular thermal approach. Simply, circular thermal encompasses de-steaming, direct heat recovery and heat pumps. The cycle takes hot and cold air being released from a facility and pulls it back in for repeated use. This is an inexpensive and proven technique.
Before starting the circular thermal journey, facilities undergo a full thermal assessment to understand the systems in place and how to improve them. Steam traps are the most common breach of a thermal system’s efficiency. Routine audits of steam traps to identify and replace failed traps is an excellent starting place.
As we move into a more connected world, Armstrong International has brought thermal efficiency into modern times with SAGE® thermal utility management software. This groundbreaking system has the capability to bring real-time monitoring to a thermal system when equipped with a monitoring device. The software was built to work seamlessly with Armstrong’s real time monitoring product in partnership with Everactive, as well as with the SAGE UMT®, a handheld steam trap testing device that enables faster, more accurate steam trap testing.
Both the Everactive and SAGE UMT products give companies access to data from thermal systems, especially in steam traps. While the Everactive, batteryless, always-on sensor gets installed directly to the steam trap, the SAGE UMT is a handheld device that enables faster, more accurate manual steam trap testing. In both situations, customers have access to their own data, which is securely stored.
SAGE and Everactive currently represent the highest level of system optimization and begin to help minimize energy loss and carbon emissions. In fact, with SAGE alone, Armstrong customers have identified yearly savings of $650 million in potential steam loss and 3.7 billion pounds in CO2—the equivalent of taking 365,000 cars off the road for one year.
Next, companies can minimize their carbon emissions and energy usage by fully assessing how energy is used in their thermal utility systems and making improvements to gain efficiency. At Armstrong, we offer our customers a comprehensive review of facilities to determine how additional optimization and minimization of process thermal intensity can further lower energy usage and carbon output. The plan will identify areas within your plant and processes where energy use can be minimized or eliminated by applying solutions such as reducing setpoints, upgrading process equipment, and decreasing cycle times. We provide overall observations of system deficiencies and the potential impact of neglecting them, followed by recommended next steps.
Through optimization and minimization alone, companies can expect around a 50% reduction in thermal carbon emissions before swapping to renewable energy. Furthermore, only through full optimization and minimization can facilities take full advantage of the decarbonization roadmap step.
Decarbonization represents the final step towards thermal efficiency and complete carbon neutrality. It’s the most challenging step, as producing heat sustainably means modifying or replacing entire energy systems. At Armstrong, we take a technology agnostic approach, working with our trusted partners to recommend the right renewable energy system for a factory’s usage, needs, and characteristics. Electrification, hydrogen fuel, geothermal and biomass all present viable thermal fuel systems, each helping eliminate the reliance of carbon-emitting fossil fuels. The future of thermal is clean, efficient, reliable and cost-effective — but only with renewable energy sources made possible through an optimized and minimized thermal system.
Let’s achieve carbon neutrality through efficient thermal systems
Thermal systems present an imperative step towards carbon neutrality. In fact, carbon neutrality is impossible without improving thermal systems. By cutting emissions and lowering costs, it’s my firm belief industries committing to carbon neutrality should be modernizing their thermal energy systems to prepare for the next age of clean and efficient manufacturing. If capital investment is a concern, consider the “as a service” model which can equally help accomplish decarbonization goals and preserve corporate capital.. All in all, if companies follow the Armstrong roadmap to decarbonization of optimize, minimize and decarbonize, they will make significant progress towards carbon neutrality.