Natural Gas Efficiency: Condensing the Value

April 15, 2013

The following post was written by Sid Abma, owner at Sidel Systems and it appeared on the Northeast Marcellus Initiative blog.   Launched in April 2011, the Northeast Marcellus Initiative is a natural gas industry funded organization that serves as the eyes and ears (as well as arms, legs and heart) of the EID coalition in the region – and the catalyst for a campaign that seeks to engage, educate and mobilize supporters of responsible resource development throughout northeastern Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York.

 

Natural gas efficiency is a win for both consumers and the environment. Waste heat exhaust can be used productively with flue recovery systems that capture heat and water for reuse in productive and profitable ways that also reduce CO2.

According to the World Energy Conference last year, natural gas is going to be the world’s most important energy source from now until 2050. This has all been brought about by the new technology developed here in America; horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing together as a team effort. Years ago, it was thought America’s natural gas supply was on a steady decline, but our nation has lots of natural gas. There are hundreds of years worth possibly, and natural gas is a clean burning fuel.

Have you seen, over the last several weeks, the many pictures and journals regarding the air quality in China? Americans, we’d like to think, would not allow the air quality to become so bad that particle masks have to be worn outside and inside. Still, there’s always the possibility things are a bit like that cartoon about the chief and frogs in a pot of water being heated on the stove.

We have to start dealing with this issue before it also sneaks up on us. Natural gas has natural advantages that will help.

The residential market has demonstrated natural gas can be consumed to mid 90% energy efficiency with condensing boilers, condensing furnaces and condensing water heaters. The exhaust gases leaving these appliances are “cool” and get vented out of the walls of buildings using PVC pipe.

Putting condensing appliances operating in this efficiency range into service commercially will require a certain amount of knowledge and engineering, but the dollar and emissions savings over the life of the appliance or building will be well worth the investment.

America has only one flavor of natural gas. We all use the same quality. So there are opportunities to transfer what we’ve learned in the residential market to others.

The largest consumers of natural gas are large commercial buildings, industry and the power plants. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) states these three groups consumed approximately 17.5 trillion cu.ft of natural gas in 2011. Perhaps as much as 40% of this energy is wasted as “hot” exhaust into the atmosphere. Global warming?

Safely and completely combusting natural gas requires “excess air.” Determining how much waste exhaust is actually put into the atmosphere involves calculating a multiplier that will be anywhere between 10% and 90%, depending on the appliance and application. What can be said, however, is that a whole lot of heat energy gets blown into the atmosphere.

The technology of condensing flue gas heat recovery has been in used in North America for the past 30 years. This technology was designed for the larger natural gas consumers, to help them to consume their natural gas as efficiently as is possible for their industry or application. This technology might have been recognized and utilized many years ago, but natural gas in America has been a relatively cheap energy source, and companies and industries decided that there were other places for them to invest their monies. Promoting and selling increased natural gas energy efficiency over the past 30 years has, for this reason, been a bit like pushing a wet rope uphill, not an easy task.

Something in our environment has been showing signs of change the last few years, and concerns are rising as to what has happened over the last 60 years to make our environment different. Could it be that all of the products of combustion we have blown into the atmosphere has made a change in our world’s surface temperature? Something does seem to be changing, and not for better. In America, tornado season is starting in January, and hurricanes are lasting into December. Snow levels are decreasing, leaving portions of the country short of water. Wells are slowly depleting, and ocean salt water is making it’s way into the underground water sources.

What’s happening? Can something yet be done to correct this situation? I don’t know, but what I do know is this; I do not want my great-grandkids coming to me one day saying, “And you knew this was going to happen, and you did nothing?” I want to try and do something, and that means educating America and the world. It is going to take increased energy efficiency – all kinds, every kind of increased energy efficiency.

Increased natural gas energy efficiency = Reduced utility bills = Profit

Increased natural gas energy efficiency = Reduced global warming

Increased natural gas energy efficiency = Reduced CO2 emissions

Increased natural gas energy efficiency = Water conservation

How many of you reading this can quickly think of things at their place of employment that, if slightly or majorly changed could make a climatic and profitable change for the environment or the company? There are ways to substantially increase natural gas energy efficiency and it is not all that difficult. As the heat energy is recovered from the waste exhaust gases, it is transferred into water. It can be put into the buildings existing space heating systems, or sometimes added as a secondary heating system, or used to heat the domestic water.

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In industry, this recovered heat can be put into heating the process water or addressing the plant washdown water requirements. The condensation created during this heat recovery process can be used as boiler makeup water or added to the already heated plant washdown water. At a hotel or university, this recovered heat can even be used to heat the swimming pools.

The goal for the contractor or owner is to find the applications that will deliver the greatest energy savings, not for a month or two, or a year or two, but for decades and a bunch of decades. The Department of Energy states that for every 1 million Btu’s of energy recovered from these waste exhaust gases, where this recovered heat energy is reused in the building or facility, 118 lbs of CO2 will NOT be put into the atmosphere.

They also state that if a 60 watt light bulb is left on or 24 hours, it will generate 3.3 lbs of CO2. How many light bulbs would have to be changed or replaced HOURLY, to keep up with the CO2 reduction happening hourly in the boiler room?

Then there is the condensation, this water that is being created during the heat recovery process. This is very usable water. The water from combusted natural gas can, in fact, be used to irrigate the lawns and flower beds? This is how efficiently natural gas can be consumed. Water, one day soon, is going to be a very important world commodity and we can recover it from natural gas combustion. That’s the incredible good news.

So how can America create an attitude change towards natural gas energy efficiency? Unfortunately, you can’t look at the top of a chimney poking above the roofs of a building and say “Look at how much energy that they are wasting.” That’s because you can’t see wasted natural gas. Nevertheless, the opportunity is there to recapture heat, water and CO2 if we but open our eyes to the science.

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