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Turning waste into a useful end product is a challenge. In the energy sector, the key to turning both solid and heat waste into something beneficial has been discovered by Viking Heat Engines.
Research from the US Department of Energy and Lawerence Livermore National Laboratory found more than 50 percent of the energy generated in the world today ends up being wasted as heat. That’s because more than half of this heat generation is less than 120 degrees Celsius.
Any heat produced below this temperature is difficult to turn into something useful. Viking Heat Engines saw this problem and looked to find a solution. The company began with the idea to produce electricity from low temperature heat and to make the best Organic Rankine Cycle (ORC) machine in the world. Starting from scratch in 2009, the firm needed to find partners.
“We knew that to be successful we would have to use the best experts in the world and turned to AVL Schrick GmbH (AVL), the world’s largest engine design company, for assistance,” Mr Tor Hodne, CEO and Managing Director at Viking Heat Engines, explains. “They put a team of 30 highly-skilled engineers on the task, who were supervised by us. The result was a brilliantly-designed piston engine, which was used as an expander in our CraftEngine.”
The CraftEngine runs on any kind of waste heat and produces electricity. It can be used in numerous processes and sectors. Viking Heat Engines has already found success with small-scale waste to energy systems, with biomass waste systems and with diesel and gas gensets. The company is now developing a large engine series that will allow the CraftEngine to be used in the geothermal market. The new product should be available in 2020.
Viking Heat Engines is also confident in the CraftEngine’s ability to have a positive impact on the maritime industry. New International Maritime Organisation (IMO) sulphur emissions regulations set to take effect in less than a year means there are more than 50,000 merchant ships with engines that generate waste heat which could benefit from using the CraftEngine.
“At this stage we are focusing quite heavily on the shipping market. The reason is the new IMO regulations on sulphur emissions which come into effect early 2019,” Mr Hodne notes. “Under the new regulations many ship owners will switch to new fuels with low Sulphur content and the CraftEngine will save them around five percent on their fuel costs. In these cases, we see a two-year payback and this is very attractive to the ship owners.”
Vessels equipped with a CraftEngine on-board are able to produce a certain amount of electricity from the waste heat generated by the engine. This electricity allows the ship to reduce power from, or even turn off its auxiliary engines and run from the energy being generated by the CraftEngine. This in turn reduces fuel consumption and ultimately carbon dioxide emissions helping ships meet IMO regulations in addition to the cost savings provided.
Seeking heat The company started by transforming waste heat into electricity, but it would later find the piston engine innovation used as an expander in the CraftEngine had other applications. However, this discovery required an outside point of view.
“The piston expander was specifically designed to handle temperatures in the range of 80 to 200 degrees Celsius, which is a great range to cover since most of the waste heat today is available in this temperature range,” Mr Hodne states. “Now, during the summer of 2015, we had a visitor from Chemours, the previous chemicals division of Dupont, comment that our piston expander was truly amazing in that it could handle these temperatures and asked us whether we had considered to also use it as a compressor in a heat pump application.”
He continues, “The thought hadn’t really crossed our mind too much, but the Chemours representative told us that if we could do it, we would have the fast-growing high temperature heat pump market pretty much to ourselves. Long story short, we went ahead and had the first prototype ready eight months later. We set an unofficial world record, producing 150 degrees Celsius with the innovation. This is a temperature that a large number of industries today can only obtain by burning fossil fuels.”
The prototype would eventually become the HeatBooster, a heat pump that uses electricity to raise the temperature of a heat source up to 160 degrees Celsius. Currently, coal, oil, gas or electric heaters are used for this purpose but these create significant CO2 emissions as well as excess low temperature heat that ends up being wasted.
Mr Hodne points out that there are a great deal of industrial processes using heat above 100 degrees Celsius across a wide range of industries including the food, paper and chemical sectors. The heat is required for drying, pasteurising, distillation, evaporation, boiling, laundering and colouring processes.
“Today, these companies typically burn gas, oil or even coal to produce the required temperatures. After the process, the heat is often wasted at temperatures below 100 degrees Celsius,” Mr Hodne says. “A HeatBooster can reuse this low temperature waste heat, lift it back to the temperature necessary in the process and reuse the energy which would otherwise be wasted. By doing so we can actually switch off the fossil fuel heaters altogether.”
The environmental benefits of the HeatBooster could be far reaching. A study performed by Delta Energy and Environment found the technical market potential of heat demand in the 100-150 Celsius range within the USA and EU to be nearly 500 terawatt hours. Of this amount, close to 15 percent of the demand is practically reachable, which would equate to 15,000 HeatBoosters.
Were Viking Heat Engines able to install that number of HeatBoosters, 32 million tonnes of CO2 would be saved. That total is three percent of the World’s CO2 reduction target for any given year and it doesn’t even factor in China, India, Japan, South Korea and some of the world’s other largest markets. Powering the future Despite being in business than a decade, the Viking Heat Engines team has a lot to show for their efforts. Its products are already being used in Norway, the UK, Germany and Japan and several well-known international firms are in discussion with the company.
“Starting a new company is always challenging. For us, having spent more than NOK 400 million to develop our fabulous products, obtaining financing has always been a tough battle,” Mr Hodne says. “But we are now well on our way to making commercial headlines and our investors will surely be rewarded in the end.”
As one of the first Norwegian sustainable energy technologies to venture out globally, Viking Heat Engines is looking for new opportunities with Asia a market of special interest. The company is already working on a few demo projects in Singapore and Indonesia and it hopes to gain momentum in the region as soon as the units are operational.
“Asia is very important to us for many reasons. First of all, the market opportunities are great. Also, a large portion of our management team has spent time in the region. Personally, I lived two years in Indonesia, two years in China and two years in Singapore,” Mr Hodne recalls. “Many of the business connections made during those days are still valuable to us now. We need to be patient, but once we make a breakthrough in the region we will see a lot of sales. “
Mr Hodne is enthusiastic about the team at Viking Heat Engines but adds it will be important for the company to connect with distribution partners that can market, sell, install and maintain the units globally.
“Everyone here is really passionate about what we do. Our vision is to accelerate the world’s energy transition towards a sustainable future. And we are hard at work getting there,” Mr Hodne concludes. “That said, we will need even more commercial force when going into new markets. We continue to look for potential distribution arrangements and business cooperation with companies in Southeast Asia.”