There are many new industrial boilers being constructed in developing countries. Those in existence in developed countries are being upgraded in accordance with new environmental regulations and the availability of alternative fuels. A third development is the more efficient capture of the energy produced, according to a new report from McIlvaine Company.

The increasingly stringent regulations are creating a number of changes. China has shut down thousands of small coal-fired boilers due to their SO2, NOx, and particulate emissions.

In the next few months, McIlvaine says operators of U.S. industrial boilers will have to decide whether to gamble on low gas prices for the next two decades or add air pollution control equipment to their existing systems. There are more than 10,000 boilers listed in the McIlvaine Industrial Emitters database and project tracking system. Less than 2,000 will fall under the criteria for action set up by the new Industrial Boiler MACT rule. Of these 2,000 units, only 500 units will have to make major capital expenditures. These plants will have to decide whether to invest the funds to meet the new regulations or switch to natural gas or even retire the units and buy electricity. McIlvaine’s Industrial Emitters program is tracking these decisions as they happen.

Fuel cost and availability is a major cause of change throughout the world. Europe has regulations on coal burning which require operators to also burn biomass. As a result, European operators are paying as much as $100/ton for wood pellets from the U.S. and agricultural waste from South Asia. At the same time that natural gas has become economically attractive in the U.S., it has become unattractive in much of Europe. Recently, waste-to-energy plants in Europe have started exploring the potential of importing treated garbage, which is labeled Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) from the Americas and elsewhere.

Most industrial boiler installations provide steam for industrial processes. Large chemical plants and refineries also generate their own electricity. McIlvaine says there remains untapped potential to integrate power generation, process steam and supply of low-quality steam for other applications. District heating is an example of the way to extract the most energy from the fuel. In a typical fossil-fired boiler, there is a cooling tower to condense the low-pressure steam. The large plume visible from these plants is testimony to the very large amount of heat being lost, McIlvaine says. Several new processes can be integrated into industrial complexes. One is the production of ethanol. The low-pressure steam from power generation can be utilized with major cost savings.

One of the fastest growing industries is Recirculating Aquaculture Systems (RAI). The production of fish in carefully temperature- and oxygen-controlled tanks is proving to be less costly than the traditional ponds. They can be located at industrial facilities and be integrated with power production.

In addition to the cost benefits of cogeneration, there is the substantial reduction in greenhouse gases. If an ethanol or RAI plant does not have to be equipped with a boiler, there is a very substantial reduction in potential CO2 emissions.