A team at the University of Sheffield this week have said they believe that the region’s famous steel plants could hold the key to a greener future for the South Yorkshire city. The experts at the University say that harnessing the waste energy created by the steel plants outside the city centre would produce an additional 20 MW of thermal energy.
Whilst this might not sound like much on paper, if this amount was produced consistently, over 2,000 homes and businesses could be heated using this method per year, having huge knock-on consequences for commercial energy in the city centre.
Professor Jim Swithenbank explained that “It actually costs the steel plants to reduce the temperature of the flue gas and to cool the water used during steel manufacture. Recovering this heat and transferring it to the district heating network reduces the cost of heat production, improves energy efficiency and is beneficial to the environment, making a ‘win, win’ situation for the steelworks and the city,”
Swithenbank is something of an old hand in the heating and commercial energy system in Yorkshire, having helped develop the Sheffield district heating system during the 1970’s.
The original phase of the district heating system generates around 21 MW of electricity, which powers some 22,000 homes and businesses, with an additional 60 MW of thermal energy pumped around a 44km network of subterranean pipes; heating and providing hot water to 140 public buildings and 3,000 homes – reducing Sheffield’s CO2 emissions by around 21,000 tonnes per year.
If the engineers from the University’s SUWIC Research Centre’s plans come to fruition, the suggested expansion could knock a further 80,000 tonnes from that total.
Studies like the one in Sheffield could provide the tools for similar expansions across the UK; the researchers involved used a cutting-edge digital mapping software (GIS) to identify areas of high energy demand against potential new energy sources, assessing where an expansion would have the most gain.
Their findings, published in the Journal of Energy Conversion and Management, could see other cities with existing district heating systems using the same software to harness waste fuel in their region to provide more efficient commercial energy and heating to homes.
With the heating of buildings responsible for around half of the total energy used in the UK, a system that uses waste heat instead of traditional fossil fuel would be a huge boon for the UK’s pledges to decarbonise it’s fuel supply.
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