Electric and mechanical power produce heat. That heat, according to research from Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), could be a ready source of energy -- enough to cut U.S. carbon dioxide emissions by 60% by 2030.
Oak Ridge's new report looks at combined heat and power (CHP) technologies, which capture and reuse waste heat from electric or mechanical power. Existing CHP technologies account for about 9% of annual U.S. power generation. The Oak Ridge study shows that just doubling that CHP capacity to 20% could cut projected U.S. carbon dioxide emissions by 60% by 2030-- the same effect as taking 45 million cars off the road.
Current CHP systems made up of gas turbines, fuel cells or engines combined with heat exchangers and chillers cut 1.8 billion Btu of fuel consumption and 266 million tons of CO2 emissions compared to traditional separate production of electricity and thermal energy.
In addition to the 60% CO2 reduction, raising CHP generating capacity to 20% would -- according to ORNL -- create a million new jobs; generate $234 billion in new U.S. investments; and create fuel savings equivalent to nearly half the total energy now consumed by U.S. households.
Not too shabby.
There's actually a lot of research going on in this field right now. For instance, IBM has presented a prototype system to re-use the heat generated by data centers (which use at least $4.5 billion worth of electricity every year).
In the prototype system, water is pumped through "microchannels" within the data center's computers. This water cools off the computers, saving the cost of air conditioning to accomplish the same purpose. This water, now carrying the heat from the computers, then gets pumped out of the data center to nearby homes, where it provides heat. According to a report in IEEE Spectrum, "a 10-megawatt data center could produce enough energy to heat 700 homes."
This all fits the environmentalists' credo -- reduce, reuse, recycle. Who thought that meant energy, too?