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The Greenest Power
CNBC.com | March 01, 2012 | 12:45 PM EST

That short time frame is critical, says Dehamna, because “if the payback period is over five years, as a business owner I’m likely not going to consider it.”

But Casten says the real benefit to energy-intensive commodity producers, like steel or glass, could be in their margins.

As an example, he says one glass producer could realize a drop in production cost of 7 percent to 8 percent by recovering waste heat.

“In a commodity business, 1 percent (in cost difference) is the difference between winner and loser,” he says, adding that this is the kind of advantage that could keep some of this production viable domestically, rather than shipping it overseas.

Regulatory Wrinkle

But despite its cost-effectiveness and green approach, environmental legislation designed to protect air and water quality is a roadblock to wider adoption of waste-heat recovery systems.

Technologies to scrub airborne contaminants need discharged fumes from industrial processes to be cool enough to filter — robbing it of the waste heat that would be recovered.

“We’d have to be willing to reopen some obsolete rules,” says Casten, to at least reorder the processes to extract the heat first, or to allow for installation of updated technologies that ultimately extend the life of processes that pollute.

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