A Law Worth Challenging

Bob TontiJoin The Conversation

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In April 2009, I made a presentation at the Tulane Engineering Forum in New Orleans on the topic of process heat recovery. I started with these quotes from Al Gore, Bobby Jindal and Stephen Chu, who I claimed all had something in common:

“The scientists are virtually screaming from the rooftops now. The debate is over! It’s an inconvenient truth…it’s a moral imperative.” Former Vice President Al Gore, on global warming

“We need to break our dependency on foreign sources of oil, which leaves us at the mercy of foreign powers.” Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, on oil imports

“If I were emperor of the world, I would put the pedal to the floor on energy efficiency and conservation for the next decade.” Former Energy Secretary Stephen Chu, on energy efficiency

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Looking into the kiln in Purvis, MS.

Of course, my argument was that if you operate an industrial facility, there is common ground between environmentalists, economists and conservationists. The thrill is in finding it. To do that, you’ve got to tangle with the law. That is, the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

It is not enough to just think like one of the guys I quoted. The skill is in equipping operations to be more environmentally capable, finding a way to make it pay, and preserving the future. Energy efficiency projects at industrial plants can fill all three roles. The topic of my presentation at Tulane was, in fact, energy recovery, otherwise known as energy recycle, otherwise known as waste heat recovery.

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Model rendering of our waste heat recovery operation in Lake Charles, LA. Our plant has been producing power since the beginning of 2013.

If you ever drive the banks of the Mississippi River in Louisiana, count the exhaust stacks of all the industrials along the route. Imagine the amount of heat coming from them and think about how much oil we would avoid, emissions we would prevent and economic benefit we might gain by recycling all that heat. At Rain CII, all the stacks at our Louisiana plants are attached with heat recovery to generate steam and/or electricity, which keeps someone from having to burn something else to make power or heat. We hope more work is done on the technology to improve heat capture economics because today, the second law of thermodynamics limits the economic effectiveness to very high temperature heat sources. To capture heat at lower temperatures, a vast source of untapped energy, we have to improve the technology to tangle with the law.

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At the 2011 groundbreaking celebration for our Lake Charles heat recovery plant, Rain CII President & CEO Gerry Sweeney (right).

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