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Sustainable Chemical Manufacturing

Energy recovery in steam systems

Like many industries, the chemical sector is immersed in a movement towards more sustainable manufacturing processes. However, this is extra challenging when operating in the strictly controlled and highly regulated chemical industry, because corners cannot be cut to make savings. Production of many chemicals produces significant quantities of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, often this is unavoidable – and chemical companies are still required to maintain production and seek growth – the world still needs those chemical products.

Date published 21/03/2023
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According to a report by the IEA, about a quarter of CO2 emissions in the chemical sector are generated because of chemical reactions inherent to the materials being produced.

So how to transition to a more sustainable business model? 

In chemical manufacturing, because of high pressure and demanding applications, the most high-performance, robust equipment is required. Identifying where energy savings can be made around that equipment and within those applications could help managers to make more progress on sustainability improvement, whilst at the same time boosting productivity and cutting waste.

Most chemical manufacture uses steam systems at some point in the process, and often the use of steam is embedded throughout. This is down to the fact that steam remains the most efficient and manageable thermal energy medium, and much of the heat energy within steam can be recovered – even after it has done its job at point of use.

Effective energy recovery through condensate return is a win – win. 

It saves energy, because it allows re-use of the heat in hot condensate, it saves on treatment costs (because the condensate has already been treated to make it suitable for the system, so re-using it instead of always adding fresh water helps to save costs and resources) and it means less discharge to drain which is potentially harmful to environments. 

Properly removing condensate also ensures better steam system performance (by ensuring dryer, better quality steam) so process productivity will be positively impacted.

Condensate recovery perfectly aligns with the initiatives in many Chemical companies around waste prevention and circular economy – especially because condensate can be recaptured over and over and then essentially returns to water after it has completed its job.

Our advice is for chemical manufacturers to talk to experts to see if there are energy savings that they are overlooking. There are usually plenty of opportunities to optimise a thermal energy system like a steam system, but sometimes a specialist engineer will know where to find them faster and be able to advise on what will give the best energy ROI, while ensuring constant adherence to strict safety and regulatory rules. 

For more information about condensate recovery systems in chemicals or to discuss how to improve energy efficiency in your steam system, contact the GESTRA team.

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