Since the 1970s many technologies have been developed with strong energy-savings potential for the industrial sector. In fact, the U.S. DOE’s Advanced Manufacturing Office has supported more than 600 RD&D projects that yielded more than 250 technologies that are now in commercial use. However, even when lifecycle cost-effective technologies are available, their adoption can be uneven. As an example, the market penetration of variable speed control technologies in the United States lags behind market penetration rates in Japan and Western Europe. One mechanism to catalyze adoption of such technologies is demonstrations in manufacturing plants under real-world conditions.
Setting the Stage for Adoption
Without credible information on successful implementation, whether from peers or reputable third parties, energy-efficient technologies can seem risky. For energy-efficient industrial technologies in particular, a lack of credible information about a given technology’s success can prevent widespread adoption, particularly if the technology is integrated with a critical process that could jeopardize production if it does not operate as intended.
One important pathway to facilitate technology adoption is through demonstration projects that allow industrial end-users to assess a technology under real-world operation conditions. In “Crossing the valley of death: Policy adoptions to advance the uptake of energy-efficient emerging technologies in U.S. industry” (Bostrom, et al., 2011) the authors propose a set of policy options, including establishing regional demonstration hubs as a mechanism to drive the diffusion of industrial energy-efficient technologies. Demonstrations could also be implemented at company sites where some project funding is provided in exchange for detailed information on the project’s impact.
Showcase Projects Highlight Emerging Technology
The Better Buildings, Better Plants Challenge industrial partners have as part of their challenge-level commitment included showcase projects demonstrating their efforts to improve energy efficiency. Briggs & Stratton, a manufacturer of lawn mowers, generators, and other small engines, included a demonstration of isothermal melting at its Statesboro, Ga., plant. Not only has Briggs & Stratton had exchanges with General Electric and Alcoa to share technical expertise on the technology, but guests from domestic and international representatives from other firms have visited the site.
Isothermal melting uses high-intensity electrical resistance heaters to melt aluminum via conduction and convection, producing zero in-plant emissions. This melting technology imposes relatively low capital and operating costs, requires less floor space, and can increase energy efficiency by up to 70% compared to conventional natural gas-fired furnaces. The process received support from DOE as part of a technology demonstration by Apogee Technology. This demonstration provided the technical information that gave confidence to Briggs & Stratton to commit capital to upgrade their aluminum melting process. Richard Feustel, Corporate Energy Manager at Briggs & Stratton noted the demonstration’s importance, “When we begin to get into the process improvements, the technical expertise is key—the technical expertise we received from Apogee Technologies and the financial backing they had to obtain to get this project off the ground was a big part of it.” In addition to receiving expertise from Apogee, the Statesboro plant received a $45,000 grant from Southern Company which provided additional thrust in moving forward with the installation.
Moving forward with new policy and approaches
The gap between research and development and large-scale adoption of proven technologies remains. Investments in research and development have yielded significant technological developments that extend the potential to improve industrial energy efficiency. However, enabling mechanisms are needed to catalyze these technologies’ adoption in order to achieve their anticipated impacts.
Similar to ARPA-E’s assessment of technologies that offer transformational promise in energy generation, a parallel assessment of technologies with transformational promise in industrial energy efficiency with low market adoption rates could inform demonstration project technology candidates and scope. Ensuring that technologies are consistently accompanied by demonstrations at relevant firms can provide the necessary information to increase adoption in industry where systems impact and operational risk of major alterations remains high.