Waste heat

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Thermal oxidizers can use a regenerative process for waste heat from industrial systems. Regenerative thermal oxidizer.jpg
Thermal oxidizers can use a regenerative process for waste heat from industrial systems.
Air conditioning units use electricity which ends up as heat 2008-07-11 Air conditioners at UNC-CH.jpg
Air conditioning units use electricity which ends up as heat

Waste heat is heat that is produced by a machine, or other process that uses energy, as a byproduct of doing work. All such processes give off some waste heat as a fundamental result of the laws of thermodynamics. Waste heat has lower utility (or in thermodynamics lexicon a lower exergy or higher entropy) than the original energy source. Sources of waste heat include all manner of human activities, natural systems, and all organisms, for example, incandescent light bulbs get hot, a refrigerator warms the room air, an internal combustion engine generates high-temperature exhaust gases, and electronic components get warm when in operation.

Machine tool using energy to perform an intended action

A machine is a mechanical structure that uses power to apply forces and control movement to perform an intended action. Machines can be driven by animals and people, by natural forces such as wind and water, and by chemical, thermal, or electrical power, and include a system of mechanisms that shape the actuator input to achieve a specific application of output forces and movement. They can also include computers and sensors that monitor performance and plan movement, often called mechanical systems.

Energy Physical property transferred to objects to perform heating or work

In physics, energy is the quantitative property that must be transferred to an object in order to perform work on, or to heat, the object. Energy is a conserved quantity; the law of conservation of energy states that energy can be converted in form, but not created or destroyed. The SI unit of energy is the joule, which is the energy transferred to an object by the work of moving it a distance of 1 metre against a force of 1 newton.

Work (thermodynamics) an energy transfer, or its amount (& direction), in a thermodynamic process due to macroscopic factors external to a thermodynamic system

In thermodynamics, work performed by a system is energy transferred by the system to its surroundings, by a mechanism through which the system can spontaneously exert macroscopic forces on its surroundings, where those forces, and their external effects, can be measured. In the surroundings, through suitable passive linkages, the whole of the work done by such forces can lift a weight. Also, just through such mechanisms, energy can transfer from the surroundings to the system; in a sign convention used in physics, such energy transfer is counted as a negative amount of work done by the system on its surroundings.


Instead of being "wasted" by release into the ambient environment, sometimes waste heat (or cold) can be utilized by another process (such as using hot engine coolant to heat a vehicle), or a portion of heat that would otherwise be wasted can be reused in the same process if make-up heat is added to the system (as with heat recovery ventilation in a building).

Heat recovery ventilation (HRV), also known as mechanical ventilation heat recovery (MVHR), is an energy recovery ventilation system which works between two sources at different temperatures. Heat recovery is a method which is increasingly used to reduce the heating and cooling demands of buildings. By recovering the residual heat in the exhaust gas, the fresh air introduced into the air conditioning system is pre-heated (pre-cooled), and the fresh air enthalpy is increased (reduced) before the fresh air enters the room or the air cooler of the air conditioning unit performs heat and moisture treatment. A typical heat recovery system in buildings consists of a core unit, channels for fresh air and exhaust air, and blower fans. Building exhaust air is used as either a heat source or heat sink depending on the climate conditions, time of year and requirements of the building. Heat recovery systems typically recover about 60–95% of the heat in exhaust air and have significantly improved the energy efficiency of buildings.

Thermal energy storage, which includes technologies both for short- and long-term retention of heat or cold, can create or improve the utility of waste heat (or cold). One example is waste heat from air conditioning machinery stored in a buffer tank to aid in night time heating. Another is seasonal thermal energy storage (STES) at a foundry in Sweden. The heat is stored in the bedrock surrounding a cluster of heat exchanger equipped boreholes, and is used for space heating in an adjacent factory as needed, even months later. [1] An example of using STES to utilize natural waste heat is the Drake Landing Solar Community in Alberta, Canada, which, by using a cluster of boreholes in bedrock for interseasonal heat storage, obtains 97 percent of its year-round heat from solar thermal collectors on the garage roofs. [2] [3] Another STES application is storing winter cold underground, for summer air conditioning. [4]

Thermal energy storage achieved with greatly differing technologies that collectively accommodate a wide range of needs; allows excess thermal energy to be collected for later use

Thermal energy storage (TES) is achieved with widely differing technologies. Depending on the specific technology, it allows excess thermal energy to be stored and used hours, days, or months later, at scales ranging from individual process, building, multiuser-building, district, town, or region. Usage examples are the balancing of energy demand between daytime and nighttime, storing summer heat for winter heating, or winter cold for summer air conditioning. Storage media include water or ice-slush tanks, masses of native earth or bedrock accessed with heat exchangers by means of boreholes, deep aquifers contained between impermeable strata; shallow, lined pits filled with gravel and water and insulated at the top, as well as eutectic solutions and phase-change materials.

Seasonal thermal energy storage is the storage of heat or cold for periods of up to several months. The thermal energy can be collected whenever it is available and be used whenever needed, such as in the opposing season. For example, heat from solar collectors or waste heat from air conditioning equipment can be gathered in hot months for space heating use when needed, including during winter months. Waste heat from industrial process can similarly be stored and be used much later. Or the natural cold of winter air can be stored for summertime air conditioning. STES stores can serve district heating systems, as well as single buildings or complexes. Among seasonal storages used for heating, the design peak annual temperatures generally are in the range of 27 to 80 °C, and the temperature difference occurring in the storage over the course of a year can be several tens of degrees. Some systems use a heat pump to help charge and discharge the storage during part or all of the cycle. For cooling applications, often only circulation pumps are used. A less common term for STES technologies is interseasonal thermal energy storage.

The Drake Landing Solar Community (DLSC) is a planned community in Okotoks, Alberta, Canada, equipped with a central solar heating system and other energy efficient technology. This heating system is the first of its kind in North America, although much larger systems have been built in northern Europe. The 52 homes in the community are heated with a solar district heating system that is charged with heat originating from solar collectors on the garage roofs and is enabled for year-round heating by underground seasonal thermal energy storage (STES).

On a biological scale, all organisms reject waste heat as part of their metabolic processes, and will die if the ambient temperature is too high to allow this.

Metabolism The set of life-sustaining chemical transformations within the cells of organisms

Metabolism is the set of life-sustaining chemical reactions in organisms. The three main purposes of metabolism are: the conversion of food to energy to run cellular processes; the conversion of food/fuel to building blocks for proteins, lipids, nucleic acids, and some carbohydrates; and the elimination of nitrogenous wastes. These enzyme-catalyzed reactions allow organisms to grow and reproduce, maintain their structures, and respond to their environments..

Anthropogenic waste heat is thought by some to contribute to the urban heat island effect. The biggest point sources of waste heat originate from machines (such as electrical generators or industrial processes, such as steel or glass production) and heat loss through building envelopes. The burning of transport fuels is a major contribution to waste heat.

Urban heat island Urban area that is significantly warmer than its surrounding rural areas due to human activities

An urban heat island (UHI) is an urban area or metropolitan area that is significantly warmer than its surrounding rural areas due to human activities. The temperature difference is usually larger at night than during the day, and is most apparent when winds are weak. UHI is most noticeable during the summer and winter. The main cause of the urban heat island effect is from the modification of land surfaces. Waste heat generated by energy usage is a secondary contributor. As a population center grows, it tends to expand its area and increase its average temperature. The term heat island is also used; the term can be used to refer to any area that is relatively hotter than the surrounding, but generally refers to human-disturbed areas.

Conversion of energy

Machines converting energy contained in fuels to mechanical work or electric energy produce heat as a by-product.


In the majority of energy applications, energy is required in multiple forms. These energy forms typically include some combination of: heating, ventilation, and air conditioning, mechanical energy and electric power. Often, these additional forms of energy are produced by a heat engine, running on a source of high-temperature heat. A heat engine can never have perfect efficiency, according to the second law of thermodynamics, therefore a heat engine will always produce a surplus of low-temperature heat. This is commonly referred to as waste heat or "secondary heat", or "low-grade heat". This heat is useful for the majority of heating applications, however, it is sometimes not practical to transport heat energy over long distances, unlike electricity or fuel energy. The largest proportions of total waste heat are from power stations and vehicle engines.[ citation needed ] The largest single sources are power stations and industrial plants such as oil refineries and steelmaking plants.[ citation needed ]

Power generation

The electrical efficiency of thermal power plants is defined as the ratio between the input and output energy. It is typically only 33% when disregarding usefulness of the heat output for building heat. [5] The images show cooling towers which allow power stations to maintain the low side of the temperature difference essential for conversion of heat differences to other forms of energy. Discarded or "Waste" heat that is lost to the environment may instead be used to advantage.

Coal-fired power station that transform chemical energy into 36%-48% electricity and remaining 52%-64% to waste heat Coal power plant Datteln 2 Crop1.png
Coal-fired power station that transform chemical energy into 36%-48% electricity and remaining 52%-64% to waste heat

Industrial processes

Industrial processes, such as oil refining, steel making or glass making are major sources of waste heat.


Although small in terms of power, the disposal of waste heat from microchips and other electronic components, represents a significant engineering challenge. This necessitates the use of fans, heatsinks, etc. to dispose of the heat.

For example, data centers use electronic components that consume electricity for computing, storage and networking. The French CNRS explains a data center is like a resistance and most of the energy it consumes is transformed into heat and requires cooling systems. [6]


Animals, including humans, create heat as a result of metabolism. In warm conditions, this heat exceeds a level required for homeostasis in warm-blooded animals, and is disposed of by various thermoregulation methods such as sweating and panting. Fiala et al. modelled human thermoregulation. [7]

Cooling towers evaporating water at Ratcliffe-on-Soar Power Station, United Kingdom. RatcliffePowerPlantBlackAndWhite.jpg
Cooling towers evaporating water at Ratcliffe-on-Soar Power Station, United Kingdom.


Low temperature heat contains very little capacity to do work (Exergy), so the heat is qualified as waste heat and rejected to the environment. Economically most convenient is the rejection of such heat to water from a sea, lake or river. If sufficient cooling water is not available, the plant has to be equipped with a cooling tower to reject the waste heat into the atmosphere. In some cases it is possible to use waste heat, for instance in heating homes by cogeneration. However, by slowing the release of the waste heat, these systems always entail a reduction of efficiency for the primary user of the heat energy.[ citation needed ]


Cogeneration and trigeneration

Waste of the by-product heat is reduced if a cogeneration system is used, also known as a Combined Heat and Power (CHP) system. Limitations to the use of by-product heat arise primarily from the engineering cost/efficiency challenges in effectively exploiting small temperature differences to generate other forms of energy. Applications utilizing waste heat include swimming pool heating and paper mills. In some cases, cooling can also be produced by the use of absorption refrigerators for example, in this case it's called trigeneration or CCHP (combined cooling, heat and power).


Waste heat can be forced to heat incoming fluids and objects before being highly heated. For instance outgoing water can give its waste heat to incoming water in a heat exchanger before heating in homes or power plants.

Electrification of waste heat

There are many different approaches to transfer thermal energy to electricity, and the technologies to do so have existed for several decades. The organic Rankine cycle, offered by companies such as Ormat, is a very known approach, whereby an organic substance is used as working medium instead of water. The benefit is that this process can reject heat at lower temperatures for the production of electricity than the regular water steam cycle. [8] An example of use of the steam Rankine cycle is the Cyclone Waste Heat Engine. Another established approach is by using a thermoelectric, such as those offered by Alphabet Energy, where a change in temperature across a semiconductor material creates a voltage through a phenomenon known as the Seebeck effect. [9] A related approach is the use of thermogalvanic cells, where a temperature difference gives rise to an electric current in an electrochemical cell. [10]

Anthropogenic heat

Anthropogenic heat ANTHROPOGENIC HEAT.png
Anthropogenic heat

Anthropogenic heat is heat generated by humans and human activity. The American Meteorological Society defines it as "Heat released to the atmosphere as a result of human activities, often involving combustion of fuels. Sources include industrial plants, space heating and cooling, human metabolism, and vehicle exhausts. In cities this source typically contributes 15–50 W/m2 to the local heat balance, and several hundred W/m2 in the center of large cities in cold climates and industrial areas." [11]

Estimates of anthropogenic heat generation can be made by totaling all the energy used for heating and cooling, running appliances, transportation, and industrial processes, plus that directly emitted by human metabolism.

Environmental impact

Anthropogenic heat is a small influence on rural temperatures, and becomes more significant in dense urban areas. [12] It is one contributor to urban heat islands. Other human-caused effects (such as changes to albedo, or loss of evaporative cooling) that might contribute to urban heat islands are not considered to be anthropogenic heat by this definition.

Anthropogenic heat is a much smaller contributor to global warming than are greenhouse gases. [13] In 2005, although anthropogenic waste heat flux was significantly high in certain urban areas (and can be high regionally). For example, waste heat flux was +0.39 and +0.68 W/m2 for the continental United States and western Europe, respectively) globally it accounted for only 1% of the energy flux created by anthropogenic greenhouse gases. Global forcing from waste heat was 0.028 W/m2 in 2005. This statistic is predicted to rise as urban areas become more widespread. [14]

Although waste heat has been shown to have influence on regional climates, [15] climate forcing from waste heat is not normally calculated in state-of-the-art global climate simulations. Equilibrium climate experiments show statistically significant continental-scale surface warming (0.4–0.9 °C) produced by one 2100 AHF scenario, but not by current or 2040 estimates. [14] Simple global-scale estimates with different growth rates of anthropogenic heat [16] that have been actualized recently [17] show noticeable contributions to global warming, in the following centuries. For example, a 2% p.a. growth rate of waste heat resulted in a 3 degree increase as a lower limit for the year 2300. Meanwhile, this has been confirmed by more refined model calculations. [18]

One research showed that if anthropogenic heat emissions continue to rise at the current rate, they will become a source of warming as strong as GHG emissions in the 21 century. [19]

See also

Related Research Articles

Solar energy Radiant light and heat from the Sun that is harnessed using a range of technologies

Solar energy is radiant light and heat from the Sun that is harnessed using a range of ever-evolving technologies such as solar heating, photovoltaics, solar thermal energy, solar architecture, molten salt power plants and artificial photosynthesis.

Heat pump Pumps heat backward - a device that transfers thermal energy in the opposite direction of spontaneous heat transfer

A heat pump is a device that transfers heat energy from a source of heat to what is called a heat sink. Heat pumps move thermal energy in the opposite direction of spontaneous heat transfer, by absorbing heat from a cold space and releasing it to a warmer one. A heat pump uses external power to accomplish the work of transferring energy from the heat source to the heat sink. The most common design of a heat pump involves four main components – a condenser, an expansion valve, an evaporator and a compressor. The heat transfer medium circulated through these components is called refrigerant.

Power station facility generating electric power

A power station, also referred to as a power plant or powerhouse and sometimes generating station or generating plant, is an industrial facility for the generation of electric power. Most power stations contain one or more generators, a rotating machine that converts mechanical power into three-phase electric power. The relative motion between a magnetic field and a conductor creates an electrical current. The energy source harnessed to turn the generator varies widely. Most power stations in the world burn fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas to generate electricity. Cleaner sources include nuclear power, biogas and an increasing use of renewables such as solar, wind, wave and hydroelectric.

Solar thermal energy technology for harnessing solar energy for thermal energy

Solar thermal energy (STE) is a form of energy and a technology for harnessing solar energy to generate thermal energy or electrical energy for use in industry, and in the residential and commercial sectors.

Compressed-air energy storage type of energy storage system using compressed air

Compressed-air energy storage (CAES) is a way to store energy generated at one time for use at another time using compressed air. At utility scale, energy generated during periods of low energy demand (off-peak) can be released to meet higher-demand periods. This is especially important in an age where intermittent renewable-energy sources such as wind and solar power are becoming more prominent energy sources. CAES systems can have a vital impact in making sure that the electricity demands can be met at peak hours. Small-scale systems have long been used in such applications as propulsion of mine locomotives. Large-scale applications must conserve the heat energy associated with compressing air; dissipating heat lowers the energy efficiency of the storage system.

The coefficient of performance or COP of a heat pump, refrigerator or air conditioning system is a ratio of useful heating or cooling provided to work required. Higher COPs equate to lower operating costs. The COP usually exceeds 1, especially in heat pumps, because, instead of just converting work to heat, it pumps additional heat from a heat source to where the heat is required. For complete systems, COP calculations should include energy consumption of all power consuming auxiliaries. COP is highly dependent on operating conditions, especially absolute temperature and relative temperature between sink and system, and is often graphed or averaged against expected conditions.

Cogeneration simultaneous generation of electricity, and/or heating, or cooling, or industrial chemicals

Cogeneration or combined heat and power (CHP) is the use of a heat engine or power station to generate electricity and useful heat at the same time. Trigeneration or combined cooling, heat and power (CCHP) refers to the simultaneous generation of electricity and useful heating and cooling from the combustion of a fuel or a solar heat collector. The terms cogeneration and trigeneration can be also applied to the power systems generating simultaneously electricity, heat, and industrial chemicals – e.g., syngas or pure hydrogen.

Fossil fuel power station Facility that burns fossil fuels to produce electricity

A fossil fuel power station is a thermal power station which burns a fossil fuel, such as coal or natural gas, to produce electricity. Fossil fuel power stations have machinery to convert the heat energy of combustion into mechanical energy, which then operates an electrical generator. The prime mover may be a steam turbine, a gas turbine or, in small plants, a reciprocating gas engine. All plants use the energy extracted from expanding gas, either steam or combustion gases. Although different energy conversion methods exist, all thermal power station conversion methods have efficiency limited by the Carnot efficiency and therefore produce waste heat.

District heating system for distributing heat generated in a centralized location for residential and commercial heating requirements

District heating is a system for distributing heat generated in a centralized location through a system of insulated pipes for residential and commercial heating requirements such as space heating and water heating. The heat is often obtained from a cogeneration plant burning fossil fuels or biomass, but heat-only boiler stations, geothermal heating, heat pumps and central solar heating are also used, as well as heat waste from nuclear power electricity generation. District heating plants can provide higher efficiencies and better pollution control than localized boilers. According to some research, district heating with combined heat and power (CHPDH) is the cheapest method of cutting carbon emissions, and has one of the lowest carbon footprints of all fossil generation plants. Fifth generation district heat networks do not use combustion on-site and have zero emissions of CO2 and NO2 on-site; they employ heat transfer which uses electricity which may be generated from renewable energy, or from remote fossil fuelled power stations. A combination of CHP and centralized heat pumps are used in the Stockholm multi energy system. This allows the production of heat through electricity when there is an abundance of intermittent power production and cogeneration of electric power and district heating when the availability of intermittent power production is low.

Electric heating process in which electrical energy is converted to heat

Electric heating is a process in which electrical energy is converted to heat energy. Common applications include space heating, cooking, water heating and industrial processes. An electric heater is an electrical device that converts an electric current into heat. The heating element inside every electric heater is an electrical resistor, and works on the principle of Joule heating: an electric current passing through a resistor will convert that electrical energy into heat energy. Most modern electric heating devices use nichrome wire as the active element; the heating element, depicted on the right, uses nichrome wire supported by ceramic insulators.

Thermal efficiency Efficiency in general

In thermodynamics, the thermal efficiency is a dimensionless performance measure of a device that uses thermal energy, such as an internal combustion engine, a steam turbine or a steam engine, a boiler, furnace, or a refrigerator for example. For a heat engine, thermal efficiency is the fraction of the energy added by heat that is converted to net work output. In the case of a refrigeration or heat pump cycle, thermal efficiency is the ratio of net heat output for heating, or removal for cooling, to energy input.

Renewable heat is an application of renewable energy and it refers to the renewable generation of heat, rather than electrical power. Renewable heat technologies include renewable biofuels, solar heating, geothermal heating, heat pumps and heat exchangers to recover lost heat. Significant attention is also applied to insulation.

Solar air conditioning refers to any air conditioning (cooling) system that uses solar power.

Energy recovery

Energy recovery includes any technique or method of minimizing the input of energy to an overall system by the exchange of energy from one sub-system of the overall system with another. The energy can be in any form in either subsystem, but most energy recovery systems exchange thermal energy in either sensible or latent form.

An air source heat pump (ASHP) is a system which transfers heat from outside to inside a building, or vice versa. Under the principles of vapor compression refrigeration, an ASHP uses a refrigerant system involving a compressor and a condenser to absorb heat at one place and release it at another. They can be used as a space heater or cooler, and are sometimes called "reverse-cycle air conditioners".

Thermoelectric generator

A thermoelectric generator (TEG), also called a Seebeck generator, is a solid state device that converts heat flux directly into electrical energy through a phenomenon called the Seebeck effect. Thermoelectric generators function like heat engines, but are less bulky and have no moving parts. However, TEGs are typically more expensive and less efficient.

Energy recycling is the energy recovery process of utilizing energy that would normally be wasted, usually by converting it into electricity or thermal energy. Undertaken at manufacturing facilities, power plants, and large institutions such as hospitals and universities, it significantly increases efficiency, thereby reducing energy costs and greenhouse gas pollution simultaneously. The process is noted for its potential to mitigate global warming profitably. This work is usually done in the form of combined heat and power or waste heat recovery.

Energy technology is an interdisciplinary engineering science having to do with the efficient, safe, environmentally friendly and economical extraction, conversion, transportation, storage and use of energy, targeted towards yielding high efficiency whilst skirting side effects on humans, nature and the environment.

Waste heat recovery unit

A waste heat recovery unit (WHRU) is an energy recovery heat exchanger that transfers heat from process outputs at high temperature to another part of the process for some purpose, usually increased efficiency. The WHRU is a tool involved in cogeneration. Waste heat may be extracted from sources such as hot flue gases from a diesel generator, steam from cooling towers, or even waste water from cooling processes such as in steel cooling.

Applications of the Stirling engine

Applications of the Stirling engine range from mechanical propulsion to heating and cooling to electrical generation systems. A Stirling engine is a heat engine operating by cyclic compression and expansion of air or other gas, the "working fluid", at different temperature levels such that there is a net conversion of heat to mechanical work. The Stirling cycle heat engine can also be driven in reverse, using a mechanical energy input to drive heat transfer in a reversed direction.


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