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Burning Your Garbage Now Powers Your Computer

garbage being burned next to an open field

Around half of all energy is wasted as heat. But this ‘waste heat’ can be harnessed, alongside even low-temperature geothermal heat, to produce electricity with the help of clever technology honed for the global market thanks to Eurostars international support.

Resource efficiency and so-called ‘closed-loop’ concepts that treat waste as a resource not a burden are part of a radical shift in attitudes towards a low-carbon, pro-sustainable future. Europe has invested heavily in this ‘green growth’ future, as reflected in the European Commission’s Circular Economy Package, which encourages repair, reuse and innovative ventures to better use company assets, and other sharing economy models.

But can waste be an asset? Yes, waste heat, which can be found almost everywhere and is mostly dumped into the atmosphere or oceans – further adding to carbon emissions and climate change – can be converted to electricity.

“There is an urgent global demand for innovative solutions and smart applications for a sustainable society,” notes the Netherlands Energy Research Centre, a partner in the Eurostars ‘Heat-to-Power’ project. “That presents quite a challenge, but the rapidly growing market for sustainable energy offers tremendous opportunities for entrepreneurs who offer competitive products or services at an international level.”

In fact, waste heat and geothermal energy below a critical temperature are today considered one of the greatest untapped energy sources largely due to limitations in existing technologies, according to Climeon, the Swedish energy business whose green technology was at the centre of the Heat-to-Power project.

Climeon's product is the first recovery system to fully exploit waste heat from industry and low-temperature geothermal energy to produce a sustainable electricity source. The company focuses on several segments: maritime and engines, steel and cement production, and geothermal energy.

“The company received its first order in 2015 while the Eurostars project was still ongoing…”

Start-up with promise

The 30-month project helped Climeon optimise and improve its technology so that it can reliably generate electricity from as low as 60-80°C heat (waste or geothermal). Today, the patent-protected product offers “market-leading performance” in its core application areas, according to the project’s leader Joachim Karthäuser, Chief Technology Officer at Climeon.

 

“When we applied for Eurostars, we were a small start-up with very promising results, obtained in cooperation with the Royal Technical High School in Stockholm (KTH). We were confident that we would be able to profitably convert 90°C heat into electricity, and the main idea was to push the boundaries even further down, i.e. we wanted to utilise 70°C heat to make the most of abundant thermal energy.”

 

The heat conversion, he explains, uses a novel Rankine Cycle: “In essence, a medium is evaporated, and the resulting gas under pressure drives a turbine and an electrical generator, then the gas is converted/cooled back to liquid state, and the process starts again.”

The company received its first order in 2015 while the Eurostars project was still ongoing, and has since established a diverse customer base including shipping giants Maersk and Viking Line, as well as Fincantieri and Virgin Voyages, but also the Swedish steel-maker SSAB. It has also signed on a large Icelandic geothermal project and another in Kirchweidach, Germany

Hot market

Geothermal heat of 90°C or lower is much easier to find globally, and cheaper than higher temperatures, which opens up a vast market for Climeon’s converter technology. Further growth is likely as more industries – especially energy-intensive production plants in areas like steel and cement – appreciate the potential cost-savings and environmental benefits of reusing waste heat. Another untapped market which the company has entered into is to channel heat from large marine engines, such as cruise ships, back into the ship’s own power system.

Leaning on the law of conservation of energy, Karthäuser explains that wherever there is spent heat, there is an untapped power source. “Climeon’s Heat Power System can be connected to almost any low-temperature heat source, from solar panels to paper mills to data centres … thus producing significant amounts of clean electricity.” 

Climeon was listed on the Nasdaq (First North Premier) in 2017, rapidly growing from a handful of workers to a team of more than 50 in under six years. This is thanks to a strong focus on selected markets, on-time delivery, quality and customer satisfaction, says Karthäuser. He also wants to give credit to all of the partners.

“Eurostars support enabled the cooperation with Sweden’s Alfa Laval and IF Technology, as well as with ECN in the Netherlands,” he notes. This led to a “truly great network” for further developing the technology; one which continues even after the project ended midway through 2016.