Energy efficiency for the foundation industries

Posted on 25 Jan 2021 by The Manufacturer

UKRI’s Dr Sarah Connolly outlines the latest Transforming Foundation Industries Challenge, focusing on those projects currently targeting heat recovery and waste utilisation along with other innovations aiming to reduce the sector’s environmental impact.

The Foundation industries, worth £52bn to the UK economy, are vital to UK manufacturing and construction sectors. However, these six industries (metal, paper, glass, cement, ceramic and bulk chemicals) contribute approximately 10% of our carbon emissions, which cannot continue as societal and political pressures move us to a low carbon economy.

The Transforming Foundation Industries Challenge was launched in 2018, as part of the government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, to accelerate the development of such innovations across the boundaries of these sectors. By working across sector boundaries, collaborative R&D spreads economic risk, enables larger projects to be built and widens the pool of contributing expertise.

Heat recovery and waste utilisation are prime examples where cross-sector innovation may yield greater benefits. Both areas require a systems approach to energy efficiency, looking at where these processes lose energy to the surroundings both within the factory walls and out into the supply chain as both heat and physical wastes, where by-products are not put to best use.

UKRI funded a series of projects that explore heat recovery and waste utilisation in the foundation industries.

Heat recovery

The concept of heat recovery seems simple on the surface: how can we capture and utilise heat that is wasted in the process?

There is a lot that the foundation industries can learn from other sectors. Power generation already couple heat recovery technology with local district heating networks, food and drink capture and utilise low grade waste heat in compact spaces, and the oil and gas industry recover higher grade heat for use in residential and commercial spaces.

The challenge for technology developers is to create economic solutions, more efficient high temperature heat recovery systems and those that capture more disperse and lower grade heat and generate useful outputs.

UKRI funded a consortium led by the Materials Processing Institute to develop guides for best practise in heat recovery, with expertise from the steel and ceramics sectors. The output of the work will lead to a roadmap for innovation options for solving this issue.

Separately, we funded a consortium led by Celsa Manufacturing Ltd that is developing a new power generation system for energy conversion from waste heat. Current heat recovery systems have efficiencies below 15%.

One of the reasons for the low efficiency is the temperature difference between the waste heat and the fluid in the heat exchanger system. By changing the fluid, the efficiency could be double that of the current state-of-the-art system. This may increase efficiency of the system and reduce the cost of the generated power, making it more commercially attractive.

C-Tech identified an opportunity relating to the reduction of plastic waste and the environmental impact of clothing IMAGE: UKRI

C-Tech identified an opportunity relating to the reduction of plastic waste and the environmental impact of clothing IMAGE: UKRI

The challenge is not solely in developing technology but also about successful deployment. In another project, we are working with JJ Bioenergy, which is aiming to increase uptake in heat recovery by improving the customer experience.

It will develop a Software-as-a-Service platform that will combine process engineering modelling and heat recovery technology expertise. This will allow plant managers in the foundation industry to calculate the potential of heat recovery options, compare different technologies specifically for their plant and connect to suppliers.

Waste utilisation

A large number of by-products are generated by the foundation industry processes which go to landfill or are used in low value agricultural processes. However, these are rich in minerals and can often substitute virgin raw materials in other manufacturing processes.

This is currently prevented by a lack of awareness of the types and volumes being produced as well as transportation costs of dilute solutions.

One of our projects brings together a large consortium from across South Wales, led by Environmental Resources Management Ltd. A study from WRAP showed that transitioning to a circular economy model in the region could lead to cost savings of up to £2bn a year, as well as reducing the dependency upon raw materials and increasing energy efficiency.

It brings together paper mills, steel plants, cement and chemical producers to share data. Together, an action plan is being developed for innovation between the local supply chains to achieve waste utilisation with mutual economic and environmental benefits.

Other innovative research projects include:

  • a techno-economic assessment of the incorporation of foundation industry waste streams into existing products and processes;
  • the use of paper sludges and lignin sulphates generated in the paper production process to be used in construction boards; and
  • the use of by-products from the glass production process being used to modify steel slag, allowing it to be used as an alternative to aggregate in the surface layer of tarmac.

These innovations reduce the environmental impact of the industries, as well as driving competitiveness, two factors key for the future survival of these industries vital to UK manufacturing and construction sectors.

More funding opportunities will be available in early 2021.

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Dr Sarah Connolly is Innovation Technologist for the Transforming Foundation Industries ISCF Challenge. Dr Sarah Connolly is Innovation Technologist for the Transforming Foundation Industries ISCF Challenge. She is responsible for helping UK businesses within the foundation industries increase their sustainability and international competitiveness through collaborative R&D competitions and targeted sector support and interventions.