Technology competitions like Waste Heat Challenge are terrific policy for stimulating technical innovation
When Alberta Premier Rachel Notley announced her climate change policies last Nov., energy industry leaders promised they would “take the carbon out of the barrel,” which is not coincidentally is the goal of a new competition, the “COSIA-ARCTIC Waste Heat Challenge.”
Unless you’re an engineer, these kinds of technical announcements aren’t very sexy: we’re not talking about John Galt’s perpetual motion machine or a practical nuclear fusion reactor. This is dry stuff to the average reader.
But this is exactly how humankind will reduce emissions and its impact on the global eco-system. One incremental innovation at a time, inventors and engineers and designers standing upon each others’ shoulders over the next century until eventually we lick the problem.
Or problems, more accurately, because energy systems are incredibly complex, a vast machine with millions of cogs that have to evolve more or less together.
Two week ago, I wrote about the Carbon XPrize and Calgary-based CleanCarbon Energy, which has developed a carbon capture technology based upon depleted oil and gas reservoirs.
Today, the topic is waste heat from the steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) process in which boilers burn natural gas to produce the steam used to heat the oil, allowing it to be pumped to the surface. The stack gases from these boilers exit at approximately 200 degrees C and are classified as ‘high grade’ waste heat, according to an email from the sponsors.
More than half of all oil sands crude oil is produced by SAGD (the other process is bitumen mining), which will also be the major focus of expansion between now and 2025, when oil sands production is expected to increase by 1 million b/d.
Industry says the average well-to-wheels GHG emissions of oil sands crude is nine per cent higher than the average American crude oil. Environmental critics says that number is well over 30 per cent, which is why they call it “dirty oil.” Reducing the number of zero is the goal of the challenge.
The waste heat challenge is co-sponsored by Foresight Cleantech Accelerator Centre and Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA) (also a co-sponsor of the Carbon XPrize) and provides a prize valued at $250,000. The first two winners, AMSEnergy Corp of the United States and Heat Matrix Group BV of the Netherlands, were selected from a pool of global innovators.
“This COSIA-ARCTIC Challenge accelerates the pace of development to find and adopt technologies and systems that will help reduce GHG emissions in the oils sands, and in other sectors and industries” said Dan Wicklum, COSIA’s chief executive.
“By incentivizing the world’s best minds, we are creating opportunities to develop transformative technologies that will address climate change and contribute to a cleaner energy future.”
AMSEnergy and Heat Matrix will receive funding to develop their solutions over the next six months, as well as in-kind contributions such as lab space, marketing support, equipment and materials, and mentoring.
Following this stage of the challenge, one company will be selected to receive additional funding and invited to field test their technology in Western Canada. The winner will be announced in early 2017.
Here are summaries of the two projects, provided by COSIA and Foresight:
Heat Matrix uses a polymer heat exchanger that recovers waste heat from the flue gas and uses it to preheat the combustion air. One of the key attributes of their LUVO technology is the polymer materials, which provide significant corrosion/fouling resistance from the corrosive mixture of hot air, CO2 and water. It also uses a 100 per cent counter-current configuration, giving it very high theoretical efficiency.
Heat Matrix calculates that they could eliminate the need for the existing combustion air preheaters and heat the air from 5 degrees to 118 degrees utilizing their LUVO technology. They estimate annual energy savings of about 105,000 GJ/y, with a payback of less than a year.
AMS uses a thermosiphon, dual phase heat pipe technology in their heat exchanger. The heat pipes are a hermetically sealed, evacuated tube that uses a working fluid (ammonia) in both liquid and vapour phases. At the hot end, the ammonia vaporizes (absorbing the heat of vaporization) at which point it moves to the cold end and condenses, giving up the latent heat. With heat pipe technology, large quantities of heat can be transported with a relatively small temperature differential. Heat pipe technology typically has much higher efficiencies than conventional convection systems.
AMS also calculates that they can eliminate the need for existing combustion air preheaters and also state that the exiting flue gas can be kept to 150 degrees C, reducing water condensation. Their estimates of energy savings and the payback period are similar to Heat Matrix’s.
More innovation challenges are in the works, according to the Advanced Resource Clean Technology Innovation Centre (ARCTIC), Foresight’s flagship program. A second ARCTIC challenge will focus on hot water production in oil sands mining facilities.
This is good news. For only $20 million, the Carbon XPrize generated 38 entries, the majority from the United States and Canada. For only $250,000, the Waste Heat Challenge has spawned at least two credible GHG-reducing technology projects.
What if industry and governments offered many more innovation prizes? What groundbreaking technologies might be developed and commercialized for a relatively investment? COSIA has launched a number of other oil sands-related technical challenges and should be encouraged to do more.
Technology competitions like the Waste Heat Challenge seem like a much better response to the climate change threat than the hand-wringing and sermons of environmental groups.