Electrification in a smart way

November 24, 2020

In order to meet the climate targets, many companies are investigating how they can become less dependent on natural gas. Electrification is one of the possibilities, but it has its snags. Izak Boot, Energy Specialist at Bilfinger Tebodin, advocates doing electrification in a smart way by using a step-by-step plan. According to him, much more attention should be paid to the reuse of residual heat.

Izak Boot notices that customers increasingly ask Bilfinger Tebodin how to get rid of gas and what role electricity can play in this. ‘The letter sent by Wiebes, Dutch Minister of Economic Affairs and Climate, two years ago is often the trigger. He wrote that companies should be rid of gas by 2030. Another reason for the questions we get are requirements imposed from abroad by a head office without local knowledge or in countries with an extensive natural gas network and a high supply of sustainably generated electricity. Here in the Netherlands, the situation is often completely different. We are a real natural gas country. Plants are equipped for it and the gas price is more favorable than the electricity price.’

Smart

Customers are often frightened when they see the conclusions of a scenario study or feasibility study for a gas-free factory. ‘Sustainability costs a lot of money’, says Boot. ‘It’s a puzzle to find a profitable business case. If you want to get rid of the gas completely by means of electrification then that really is unaffordable. That’s why I’m pleading for electrification to be done in a smart way’.

Boot argues not to electrify directly, but to use a step-by-step plan. The first step is to reduce energy demand and use existing energy carries as optimally as possible. Residual heat must then be reused. It’s a shame to make new heat if a factory has a surplus,’ says Boot.

Residual heat

He therefore believes that much more attention should be paid to the reuse of industrial waste heat. ‘Electrification sounds more interesting than heat recovery, because that’s what we’ve been talking about for twenty years. In practice, you also see that companies do not recover heat because the payback period is seven years, while at the same time they are working on scenarios for electrification in which the payback period is negative. As Bilfinger Tebodin, we would like both companies and the government to give more attention and priority to the reuse of residual heat. It’s not a one hundred percent solution, but it’s a very cost-effective first forty percent.’

Cost effectiveness

‘The third step towards electrification is to increase the residual heat potential and make even better use of it with heat pumps. This allows you to use heat that you could not use by bringing it back to temperature.’ Actually, this is already a piece of electrification, because the compressors use electricity. According to Boot, the last step would be to electrify. ‘But companies have to realize that it costs a lot of money. For many companies, heating with gas is twice as cheap as electricity. The step-by-step plan is an increasing scale in cost effectiveness.’

Millions of investment

Bilfinger Tebodin applies the step-by-step plan to companies that ask the for advice. Among other things, they did this for an international food company. The head office’s ambitious question is whether the factory can be rid of natural gas by 2025. Boot: ‘We have investigated their options and the costs. It turns out that a great deal will have to be changed. Think, for example, of all the building heating and a new steam supply. You’re really talking about an investment of millions, while their annual natural gas costs are only a small part of the annual budget.’

In the end, Bilfinger Tebodin therefore made a proposal to phase out the gas. Existing installations can be made more efficient, for example a thermal oil system in which a lot of heat is lost can be phased out more quickly. 2030 is seen as a more realistic horizon than 2025. ‘With that message, the company is now going back to the head office.’

Practical examples

For an automotive manufacturer, Bilfinger Tebodin researched how they could produce more sustainably in a new factory. Boot: ‘The company needs hot water, but also cold water. We saw a nice synergy in which you can make both heat and cold with heat pumps. We researched that scenario and it turned out that it is hardly more expensive than traditional boilers that run on natural gas. That was the decisive factor for them to opt for this scenario.’

For another customer, Bilfinger Tebodin designed an electric steam boiler and integrated it into the existing steam installation. If windmills have a lot of power left and the price is low, the energy supplier can turn on the electric steam boiler. At that moment steam can be made cheaper with electricity than with natural gas.

Ambitions

These are all steps that bring companies closer to gas-free production. Boot does think that the deadline set by Wiebes in his letter to get rid of the gas is unrealistic for many companies. ‘In the food industry it can still be relatively simple, because low temperatures are used there. But for the process industry and chemistry it is incredibly complicated. The good thing is that the letter has created ambitions and attention.’

Want to know more? Sign up for the Industry and Energy Summit

Would you like more practical examples of Bilfinger Tebodin on electrification? Then sign up for the Industry and Energy Summit. On December 8, Bilfinger Tebodin will provide a break-out session from 11.50 to 12.30 CET. This can be followed online for free. You can register via www.industryandenergy.eu.