Getting a warm feeling from the use of waste heat
About 20 years ago, I found myself standing on a gantry overlooking a couple of industrial refrigerators in a small, independent fruit processing factory. The compressor of each unit had a metal box affixed to it, with some neat pipework connecting them. “I built that,” said the production manager next to me, proudly “Just simple heat exchanges which produce more than the hot water we need – we sell the rest to the factory next door. Even better, they make the compressors work more efficiently – it’s win, win!”[By contrast, my employer at the time had a meeting room where it wasn’t unusual to find both the radiator and the air conditioner running at full tilt. The difference between the care taken in the factory and the mix of bad design and user ignorance in the meeting room was stark.]
About this time, I launched the Tees Valley Industrial Symbiosis Project (which later evolved into the North East region of the National Industrial Symbiosis Project or NISP). Industrial Symbiosis (IS) is where the ‘waste’ from one process becomes the raw material for another – and where waste can be materials or energy. TVISP acted as a matchmaker between those producing waste and those who could use it. The project was a roaring success, largely thanks to the efforts of Christine Parry who we recruited to run it. One of Christine’s biggest wins was to facilitate the use of waste heat and carbon dioxide from a fertiliser plant to grow 300,000 tomato plants under glass. Not bad!
Unfortunately, we didn’t get to use all the heat we could have. I recall feeling the blast of heat on my face from the heat exchangers on the local gas fired power station. According to the power station’s engineers, there was enough heat there to heat up to 150,000 homes, but currently it was just contributing to the Tees Valley microclimate. I failed to get anybody involved in local housing developments interested in picking up the ball and running with it and we simply didn’t have the resources to campaign on it ourselves.
So, nothing could cheer me up on Blue Monday (yes, I know it’s a myth…) than a radio interview with Mark Bjornsgaard, the boss of an IT company called Deep Green which installs its data centres in leisure centres. Each leisure centre uses the waste heat from the servers to heat its swimming pool. Swimming pools have a massive heat demand all year around, so this application is perfect – and Deep Green claims they reduced bills at a Devon swimming pool by 60%. This kind of clever thinking warms my heart!