How to Decarbonize the Energy Sector With Industrial Heating

Last updated on June 29th, 2023 at 04:19 pm

The energy sector currently has one of the largest carbon footprints on Earth, which is why governments worldwide want to “decarbonize” it. Industrial heating plays a significant role in releasing emissions but can also contribute to lower emissions if used appropriately. There are some approaches to heating and heater types that can facilitate reduced carbon impacts. 

The push to decarbonize the energy sector

The industrial sector accounts for 30 percent of energy-based carbon emissions in the United States. These levels reached a new peak in 2021, measuring 36.3 gigatonnes(Gt). That measurement represented a 6 percent (2.1 Gt) increase from 2020 when emissions had declined by 5.2 percent due to the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns. However, the reopening of industries brought back a resurgence of carbon emissions in 2021, surpassing records set in 2010 for the largest single-year increase. 

Certain subsets of the energy sector are known for being major polluters. They include:

  • Chemicals — Responsible for 20 percent of industrial emissions
  • Refining — Responsible for 17 percent of industrial emissions
  • Iron and steel — Responsible for 7 percent of industrial emissions
  • Food and beverage —Responsible for 6 percent of industrial emissions
  • Cement and lime — Responsible for 2 percent of industrial emissions

The likelihood is that these trends will continue without intervention, hence why government agencies are adamant about decarbonization. The overall goal? Achieve net zero emissions—a balance of removing the same amount of emissions industries release. How? 

Methods of heating decarbonization 

Decarbonization refers to multiple processes, both practical and theoretical. Methods range from choosing greener fuels to recycling waste material, but maximizing heating processes has been identified as a vital step for industrial decarbonization. 

Heating is a significant stage of many industrial processes, and, by extension, may contribute to carbon emissions. They can do so depending on the fuels used to power them and the energy used to keep them running. Therefore, decarbonizing the energy sector in terms of heating means three things: 

1) Adopting new or less polluting heating methods 

2) Making current heating methods more efficient

3) Using “greener” fuel sources for heating. 

For many operations, it may be necessary to use two or all three methods to reduce carbon emissions.

Industrial electrification of heat

Fossil fuels have long been a staple energy source for heaters, but electricity can replace traditional fuels in many applications. The obvious advantage of electricity is its low carbon impact, not to mention it is renewable. 

Electrification can take various forms. First off, there are the heating methods—induction and radiant heating being two feasible methods of electrified heat. That said, specific heaters would need to be used, such as radiant heaters or electric immersion heaters. Regardless of the method, these heaters use their heating mechanisms as a heat source, transferring almost 100 percent of the heat generated to their target medium. 

Ultimately, the purpose of electrified heating is to replace gas and fuels that are significant pollutants. Here at Wattco, we offer pre-constructed and custom heaters, including radiant heaters and electric immersion heaters that can replace fossil-fuel solutions. 

Maximizing the efficiency of process heating

Process heating systems have been identified as contributors to a higher carbon footprint. They generate significant waste heat, often made worse by a lack of recapture systems. Where the climate is a factor, such as in colder regions, a lack of insulation and improper placement of process heaters can contribute to heat loss. That invariably leads to more energy consumption (and pollution) to compensate for that heat loss. 

Maximizing the efficiency of process heating has been identified as a method to help reduce carbon footprints. That would mean electrifying the heating mechanisms in process heaters and installation materials that minimize heat loss. It may also entail using more efficient heat exchangers and sheath materials to ensure greater heat transfer to a target medium. 

How we maximize process heating efficiency

We’ve discussed a six-step process before that helps maximize the efficiency of process systems. Two of the steps we recommend to increase efficiency are minimizing the volume of exhaust gases emitted by process units and insulating the heating system. To minimize gas volume, we recommend techniques, such as fortifying air used for combustion with oxygen. To insulate your system, we suggest using a material with adequate thickness for your given application and the heating system itself. 

We can build circulation heaters (which often facilitate process heating) using materials and configurations that maximize heating efficiency. We design these heaters based on precise calculations that incorporate the needs of your industrial application, but, also, its output of energy and pollutants. 

Use of low-carbon fuel sources

E-Hydrogen FutureThe use of green energy sources has fuelled debates in the energy sector for decades now, despite gaining popularity in North America and Europe. There are challenges that have made widespread adoption of these fuels difficult, but they’re nonetheless seen as effective replacements for fossil fuels. The main advantage of these fuels is they’re naturally low-carbon solutions and burn clean, with little impact on air, water, and soil quality. 

They include the likes of: 

  • Biofuels—organic plant, liquid, and waste materials.
  • Hydrogen—including hydrogen feedstocks and variants
  • Solar power—using the sun as a heating source

Using these fuels to power large-scale heating processes would mean replacing fossil fuels, which would invariably reduce harmful emissions. But, as was mentioned above, implementing biofuels can be a challenge. 

For example, one American biodiesel manufacturer found that the use of this fuel caused their immersion heater to fail at a high rate of frequency due to its caustic composition. This is typical of biofuels and a potential issue for immersion heaters. 

Lab analysis revealed that the biodiesel blend exceeded the limits of the heater. By increasing the watt density and replacing the heater’s sheath material, we were able to mitigate the heater’s failures. 

Why does that matter? 

It’s an example of how biofuels, a somewhat challenging fuel to use, can be processed to help facilitate the reduction of carbon emissions. At Wattco, our design calculations allow us to build heaters that can handle biofuels to prevent failure. That, in turn, allows you to safely use biofuels as an eco-friendly energy source. 

Decarbonized heating is within your reach

Decarbonizing an industrial process may seem daunting, especially for businesses that have limited resources. However, many of the steps mentioned here for reducing carbon emissions require planning and careful design, not necessarily expensive equipment. 

We can help you jumpstart the process by understanding the heating requirements for your applications, and then building heaters that can facilitate them. Among those considerations, are how we can maximize the efficiency of your heaters, or allow them to use green fuel sources in a cost-effective fashion. 

Get a quote for your energy-friendly industrial heater today. Our representatives will help you find the exact setup needed for your industrial needs.