Harnessing waste energy to power factories

Manufacturers are looking for ways to make their factories more sustainable, but before whacking a solar panel on the roof, they’ve got to plan carefully.

Sami Kara is developing a tool to help industry become more sustainable. Credit: ISTOCKPHOTO

University of New South Wales researcher Assoc Prof Sami Kara says production lines need a steady supply of electricity, and if the sun goes behind a cloud, businesses get hit with penalty rates for suddenly drawing more energy from the grid.

“Manufacturing is a highly dynamic environment, it’s not like an office or a residential building where the energy consumption stays pretty much steady; in manufacturing, it fluctuates minute by minute,” Sami says.

“The question is, with respect to fluctuating demand, how do you actually manage all of those different energy supplies in order to minimise the cost and environmental impact, but still get quality energy on a timely basis.”

Before a factory can retrofit solar or thermal energy systems, they need work out smart ways to manage energy use across the whole factory.

Sami’s building a real-time tool to monitor the energy management systems of manufacturer Baxter Healthcare, and looking for literal “hotspots” where waste heat energy can be captured and reused.

For example, Baxter runs 11 huge autoclaves which they use to sterilise every single product they make. Using cogeneration, they can reclaim the excess steam to power turbines that provide energy to other parts of the factory.

The energy monitoring data also allows Baxter to choose renewable energy options—if the energy supply from solar panels or steam turbines drops, they can respond by altering production before they’re hit with peak electricity charges.

The research is an ARC linkage project, with funding from government and the industry partner, Baxter Healthcare.

University of New South Wales, Sami Kara, S.Kara@unsw.edu.au, www.lceresearch.unsw.edu.au