Turning pollution into energy

I remember a time when I was a kid that I just could not understand why a car needed to burn as gasoline as it did. Why not have a small amount of gas burn to start a generator; that generator in turn powers the car and as the wheels turn, they provide more power to the generator in a way similar to how dams generate electricity. To a child, this plan was flawless, brilliant, and incredibly obvious. In high school, I learned the physics behind it, and found that the conversion of energy isn’t quite that simple.

Or is it?

The U.S. economy wastes 55 percent of the energy it consumes, and while American companies have ruthlessly wrung out other forms of inefficiency, that figure hasn’t changed much in recent decades. The amount lost by electric utilities alone could power all of Japan.

Waste Not is an eye-opener. I suggest anyone who fancies themselves remotely eco-conscious read it. The concept of taking the plumes of steam gushing out of so many factories and recycling into electricity is one that I was instantly in love with. The fact that it actually lessens the power that factory requires from the grid and, for some plants, becomes self-sustaining, is phenomenal.

… the mill has cut its purchases of coal-fired power by half, reduced carbon emissions by 1.3 million tons a year, and saved more than $100 million. In March, the plant won an EPA Energy Star award.

The ‘mill’ mentioned above is the ArcelorMittal steel mill. That’s right — a steel mill has won an EPA Energy Star award. And you thought those were only given to dishwashers.

The article finishes on a relatively depressing note, elaborating on the amount of energy lost and how easy it is to recapture it. Capture only part of the heat the pressure lost by natural-gas pipelines and “the U.S. could take four coal-fired power plants offline.”

So why not? As the article explains, current U.S. regulations make factories hesitant to sign up. Installing the new equipment into their currently exhaust systems would prompt an immediate inspection, which could cause further headaches the companies would rather avoid. Beyond any regulatory issues, there would be a need to open the power grid to new competition. And, of course, “neither [the Democrats or the Republicans] want to do the dirty work of shutting down old, wasteful generators.”

To learn more about EPCOR (formerly Primary Energy), click here.