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Renewable Energy Vision
Expert analysis on the most pressing issues facing the renewable energy sector in the U.S and abroad from ACORE staff, members and supporters.

Waste Heat to Power: America's Hidden Source Of Emissions Free Electricity

Published on 05 Oct 2012  |   Written by    |  

Submitted By ACORE Member, The Heat is Power Association


There is a largely unheralded fuel that is continuously produced at nearly every energy intensive industrial process in the US and worldwide. The fuel is readily available and produced whenever the plant is operating. When converted to electricity, it produces no incremental emissions, just like traditional renewables.  Any power not used onsite can be sold to the grid. 

What is this mystery fuel?  Waste Heat.  Recoverable waste heat is produced around the clock in substantial quantities each day.  If harnessed to produce power in the US, waste heat could generate as much as 10 GW of emission-free electricity, enough to power 10 million American homes, provide $3 billion in savings for US industry, and spur the creation of 160,000 new American jobs. 

Well established technologies - some of the same technologies used to generate renewable power from geothermal and solar installations - can be used to harness these hot exhaust gases and waste heat streams to generate emission-free electricity.  Imagine taking the heat released from refineries, steel mills, glass furnaces, cement kilns, pulp and paper plants, chemical processing, metals manufacturing, natural gas compressor stations and landfill gas energy systems and converting it to electricity the facility can use to power its operations….with no combustion and no emissions.  And since waste heat to power is always available, it is a form of base-load, distributed generation that customers and utilities can always count on. 

“The key advantage of waste heat to power (WHP) systems is that they utilize heat from existing thermal processes, which would otherwise be wasted, to produce electricity or mechanical power, as opposed to directly consuming additional fuel for this purpose,” according to the EPA’s Waste Heat to Power Systems report (May 2012).  So why is waste heat a largely untapped resource?  

Like other forms of emission-free electricity, waste heat to power faces barriers to entry. The typical barriers to many forms of traditional renewables and distributed generation, like interconnection and backup rates, can stymie WHP projects.  In addition, the emission-free characteristics of WHP are not rewarded in the same manner that other, traditional renewable energy resources are, especially in the federal tax code.  Only fourteen of 29 states with renewable portfolio standards include waste heat as a qualifying resource. By adding to the number of states that provide incentives to generate emission-free electricity and increase onsite energy efficiency, and by securing a 30% investment tax credit and/or the full production tax credit for WHP projects, WHP systems would be placed on the same playing field as traditional renewables, thereby expanding the US market for yet another source of emission-free electricity.


HIP1 A waste heat to power and steam recovery facility produces up to 95 MW of emission-free electricity and process steam at a steel-making operation. The WHP system serves as the pollution control device for the coke battery, substantially reducing SO2 and particulate emissions associated with coke production, producing 515,000 fewer tons of carbon dioxide when compared to other plants using separate heat and power sources. The project supplies up to one-quarter of the steel mill’s total electrical requirements, displacing onsite coal-fired generation.  System developed by Primary Energy for ArcelorMittal (owner/operator of steel mill) and Sun Coke (owner/operator of coke battery).   



 There are over 20 WHP systems on natural gas pipeline compressors in North America.  These systems on average generate about 5MW of emission-free electricity from the exhaust of a gas turbine driving a natural gas pipeline compressor.  The electricity generated is used to power the pipeline and excess power can be sold to the grid.  A new facility at a natural gas compressor station in Alberta, BC, will generate 14 megawatts (MW) of electricity per hour, enough to power the equivalent of 14,000 homes, and will operate with no new emissions and no water use.  The project is a joint effort between developer NRGreen Power, technology manufacturer GE, and pipeline owner Alliance.

The Heat is Power Association is the trade association of the waste heat to power industry. The not-for-profit organization is committed to educating decisions makers and the public about the characteristics of waste heat to power as a source for electricity and an economic driver for global competitiveness. The Heat is Power Association promotes the efficient, industrial use of emission-free electricity generated through waste heat to power processes.  To learn more visit

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