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Technologies & trends in industrial energy efficiency

There's no perfect way to predict the future, but one thing seems clear: the shift to energy efficient business practices is here to stay.

That means innovation on many fronts, from new types of industrial technologies to new ideas for engaging employees. To keep you on top of some of the change we see on the horizon, the Power Smart Technology & Innovation team has put together a list of technologies and trends that you're likely to hear more about over the next year.

1. Variable frequency drives

They're not new, but their application in industrial settings is a trend leading to all sorts of positive outcomes. Variable frequency drives (VFDs, also called variable speed drives and adjustable speed drives) allow induction-motor-driven loads such as fans and pumps to operate in speed ranges as wide as 10 to 130 % of nameplate speed.

Benefits of VFD installations can include:

  • Increasing energy efficiency (in some cases savings can exceed 50%);
  • Improving power factor and process precision;
  • Adding soft starting and overspeed capability;
  • Eliminating the need for expensive and energy-wasting throttling mechanisms such as control valves and outlet dampers.

BC Hydro has participated in a joint Canadian effort to conduct a VFD benchmark study and establish a CSA test standard, so that VFDs from different manufacturers can more easily be compared at any load and speed point. A similar family of efficiency curves is already used in pump and fan selection.

Also in the works: a VFD calculator that will provide part-load and part-speed efficiencies, providing simple energy study results and allowing better selection of VFDs for specific applications.

2. Permanent magnet motors

Electric motors convert 85% of the total BC Hydro industrial electricity consumption to mechanical shaft power to drive process equipment, pumps, fans, compressors and conveyors.

With the uptake of minimum efficiency motor regulations for NEMA Premium Efficiency Motors, the search is on for super premium efficiency motor technologies. Emerging motor and drive technologies such as Permanent Magnet motors are 1-3% more efficient than current legislated levels,  plus have the benefit of variable speed functionality.

Permanent Magnet motors provide greater speed and torque capabilities, and a smaller physical footprint. Variable-speed control also enhances productivity and efficiency.

Current Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) applications include air compressors, high-speed turbo compressors, direct drive cooling tower fans, hydraulic power units, linear and rotary actuators.

Another technology to watch is switched reluctance motors, which also offer superior efficiencies.

3. Electromechanical actuators

These are appearing as replacements for pneumatic and hydraulic actuators. Wherever mechanical movement is used for process controls or movement (i.e. valves controlled by compressed air systems, packaging lines, material handling equipment, etc.), these actuators can be effectively deployed.

They provide more precise control, and can reduce energy use by up to 80%. These have potential for more efficient plant design as well, since actuators that traditionally required access to a compressed air or hydraulic line can be served with electrical power and a wireless signal instead.

Furthermore, a fault in a single actuator can be easily detected and does not impact the performance of the entire system.

4. Adaptive LED outdoor lighting

LEDs are becoming a disruptive technology across many applications on a global scale, including street lighting,  a significant area of focus in many communities and a lighting form that's adaptable to large industrial outdoor work areas.

Smart controls that vary light levels depending on time of day are now being layered on LED technology, making systems "adaptive." Greater penetration of these systems in street and area lighting applications are estimated to offer a potential electricity savings of more than 100 GWh in B.C.

5. HVAC controls for small buildings

Many industrial buildings require climate control, yet the fact is a majority of installations are comprised of bare-bones, inefficient systems.

A new generation of products, such as wireless controls, are entering the marketplace and offer to improve on these rudimentary control systems. They all aim to economically upgrade a simple system to one that is dynamic. Benefits are better climate control, reduced wear and tear on HVAC mechanics and, in some cases, up to 70% in energy savings.

6. EcoDistricts, district energy

With communities and developers increasingly pursuing sustainable building practices and energy efficiency, more new developments are incorporating district energy systems.

If your industrial facility produces waste heat and is near a soon-to-be developed land parcel, you may find an opportunity in providing heat to a district energy system. The heat is captured and used for radiant heating and cooling throughout both residential and commercial spaces.

BC Hydro's Sustainable Communities Program provides support and incentives to developers and local governments interested in district energy.

7. Low consistency pulp refining

This technology has the potential to save more than 900 GWh/yr for B.C. mills by incorporating a low-consistency (LC) refining stage into the main mechanical pulp refining line that improves energy efficiency without loss of pulp quality.

A university-industry collaborative research program has:

  • Developed methods to optimize energy transfer in LC refining;
  • Developed correlations linking operation and design to pulp quality;
  • Identified key parameters for optimal tensile strength development;
  • Demonstrated 25% energy savings (600 kWh/t) with optimal LCR in pilot studies.

With the UBC state-of-the-art low consistency refining pilot facility, it is now possible to conduct fundamental studies and conduct mill specific trials. Several mills are currently conducting engineering studies for low consistency refining application and optimization.

8. Decarbonization

Policy experts say we must "decarbonize" future large combustion processes by reducing CO2 in their emissions. Other entrepreneurs and investors see opportunity here, and are developing technologies that will separate and capture the carbon in emissions to create new products that can generate additional revenue.

One example currently being tested is a process for turning CO2 from cement kiln emissions into bicarbonate of soda for animal feed and other industrial products.

That's our list of trends and technologies to watch for. BC Hydro works as a partner with industrial companies to develop, test, and implement solutions that will support B.C.'s industrial sector through energy efficiency, continuous improvement, and improved competitiveness.

As inventor and innovator Alan Kay has said, "The best way to predict the future is to invent it."

Source: BC Hydro News