How to Handle Heat

Industrial activity is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions in Germany, but facilities across the country are changing the way they operate to reduce that pollution. Foreign suppliers of environmental heating and storage technologies are profiting.

May 2021

Located not far from Germany’s North Sea coast is one of Europe’s largest paper factories – the Papier- und Kartonfabrik Varel (PKV). It emits 280,000t of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, largely from burning fossil gas to produce the steam needed for manufacturing.

But PKV has committed to achieving climate neutrality and is taking steps to reduce that carbon footprint. In late 2019, the company installed a power-to-heat (PTH) module, which operates much like an immersion heater, producing steam from green electricity generated by the numerous wind turbines along the nearby coastline.

The PTH module was supplied by the Norwegian company Parat, which developed the technology for Scandinavia’s many hydropower plants. “The Norwegians had proven technology and the expertise to set up a PTH of an industrially viable scale of 20MW, which is very large by German standards,” says PKV’s managing director Dettmar Fischer. “The know-how needed to achieve climate neutrality can only be gained by leaving behind the stage of pilot projects and entering the stage of such large-scale demonstrators.” He adds that the PTH module feeds data into the area’s Enera project, which was funded as part of the German Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy’s SINTEG initiative. It supports attempts to generate electricity exclusively from renewable energy sources in large-scale test regions.

SINTEG is one of the many programs associated with Germany’s goal of achieving greenhouse gas neutrality by 2050 without reducing its international competitiveness.

© Eric Yang/Getty Images

Good uses for excess industrial heat

Meanwhile, some 200km to the east of PKV, tenants in Hamburg’s newly constructed Hafen­City port district can relax in the knowledge that their homes are heated in an innovative, climate-friendly fashion. Since 2018, the district’s home heating has been supplied by Aurubis, one of Europe’s largest copper producers. Its industrial processes generate excess heat that, if not captured and used, would require the equivalent of 4,800 Olympic pools per year in water for cooling. As such, it is Germany’s largest industrial model heating project.

At the center of the system is a heat-exchanging device supplied by the Swedish company Alfa Laval. “This self-financing project creates significant CO2 reduction for Aurubis and is a great example of international cooperation in the service of a future-oriented, environmentally friendly and resource-saving solution for German industry,” says Sven Schreiber, managing director of the company’s German subsidiary Alfa Laval Mid Europe.

The HafenCity project was supported by a range of government subsidies, including funds from the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy.

© Source: Statista

Reducing pollution and costs

The German Energy Agency dena calculates that companies in Germany could prevent up to 37 million tons of CO2 emissions per year and save EUR 5 billion in energy costs if industrial waste heat could be gainfully exploited.

Many commercial opportunities have arisen from Germany’s CO2 reduction efforts and the accompanying need to improve handling of industrial waste heat. Norway-based EnergyNest, which has developed a novel thermal battery technology, is another Scandinavian firm that has seized the moment: In May 2020, it opened up a project development office in Hamburg. EnergyNest’s batteries, which are made from a concrete-like material, store excess industrial heat until it is needed for tasks like preheating, green steam production or green electricity generation. Among the current users are a brickyard in Austria, an oil and gas refinery in Italy and a major fertilizer manufacturer in Norway. “Any company that takes its environmental, social and governance targets seriously will be favorably inclined toward our thermal battery solutions,” says EnergyNest CEO Christian Thiel. “We’re happy that the industrial sector is finally beginning to rethink its thermal processes, because in the overall picture, industrial emissions are a problem more in need of tackling than even ground transport emissions.”

© Source: CDP

Two Questions

Consultant at Guidehouse Energy

How can international companies benefit from German industry’s CO2 reduction effort?

German government subsidy programs have lately been scaling up in the industrial sector, in particular for innovative industrial pilot projects such as those in the field of hydrogen. This is a key step towards achieving the overall aim of industrial decarbonization. It presents ample opportunities for foreign suppliers of relevant technologies willing to set up a presence in Germany.

What services stand to gain?

In the past, the government generally pushed the private sector for carbon emission reductions. The adoption of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015 and 2016, respectively, has also now provided a very strong impetus in the private sector. Investors and shareholders increasingly expect banks, energy utilities and industrial enterprises to review their existing CO2 policies.

The Bottom Line

German industry is committed to reducing CO2 emissions by harnessing waste heat – a situation that has proven lucrative for a handful of innovative international companies.

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