As gas prices soar, a familiar but little-used technology—industrial heat pumps (IHP)—offers a compelling path to greater electrification and energy security, according to a new report published by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). The research shows that, where applied, IHPs could cut U.S. industrial energy use associated with process heat (the heat that powers manufacturing) by up to one-third and eliminate the equivalent of nine million cars’ emissions.
IHPs, essentially residential heat pumps on steroids, have been around for decades. While increasingly used in Europe, Japan, and Australia, they have gained little traction in the United States, which has fallen woefully behind in the race to decarbonize industry.
Bringing large-scale electrification to the industrial sector is important because industry accounts for more than 25% of U.S. energy use and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This includes the thermal energy used to prepare materials and produce manufactured goods (process heat), which accounts for 50% of on-site energy use. Today, less than 5% of process heat comes from electricity; instead, it’s sourced from fossil fuels. Beneficial electrification (the increased use of electricity from low- or no-carbon sources such as wind, solar, and hydropower) is a prime route for industry to reduce energy and GHGs, so it’s crucial to greatly accelerate adoption of electric technologies such as IHPs.
Now is the time to press the accelerator on IHP adoption. Corporate sustainability goals and aggressive science-based targets for GHG reductions have many companies searching for solutions. IHPs are a solution that can be implemented in the near term, delivering a fast start to GHG reductions. IHPs are commercially available, and their capabilities have advanced, making them ready to meet a broad range of needs (several types can provide process heat up to 160oC, twice the previous limit). IHPs can be a great fit for supplying heat in industries such as food and beverage, pulp and paper, and chemicals, where there is a high proportion of process heat in the range of IHP applicability. Multiple IHP types can now provide heat up to 160°C, with 200oC a target for advanced types…
Edward Rightor is the Director of the Industrial Program for the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) organization that acts as a catalyst to advance energy efficiency policies, programs, technologies, investments, and behaviors. He earned a doctorate in chemistry from Michigan State University and a bachelor of science in chemistry from Marietta College. He joined ACEEE in June 2019. Ed develops and leads the strategic vision for the industrial sector, shapes the research and policy agenda, and convenes stakeholders to accelerate energy efficiency. Prior to joining ACEEE, Ed held several leadership roles at Dow Chemical.