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Turbines reuse wasted energy

In order to generate clean electricity company incubated by UFRGS develops turbines that reuse wasted energy in large facilities
Turbines reuse wasted energy

Pressure Reducing Turbine is now operating at PepsiCo facilities – Photo: Prosumir

Author: Yuri Correa

Among the many ways that have been tested and developed to promote energy efficiency and clean energy production, the reuse of wasted energy  is one of the least discussed. However, as proven by startup Prosumir, this method can be one of the simplest and most viable alternatives. Basically, reusing a portion of thermal energy that would be dissipated in pipelines of large facilities, the mini-turbines in which the company’s founder Julio Vieira has decided to invest, convert these "waste" into electrical energy.

According to Vieira, more than R$ 10 billion (approximately US$ 3 billion) are annually lost in Brazil as a consequence of not using this source of energy. The proper exploration of a large percentage of ignored small points of waste could considerably reduce energy costs. Vieira points out that in an ideal future if all of these points were used, the electricity produced by them alone could sustain all the consumption of Rio Grande do Sul state. However, he states that companies usually focus on exploring larger sources -  those that produce more than once rather than on a number of smaller ones which, together, can produce just as much or even more.

Graduated in Mechanical Technology from Fatec (Sorocaba, São Paulo) and in Mechanical Engineering from UFRGS, Vieira had contact with turbines technology during his first graduation and decided to specialize in the area. Since the company's inauguration in 2014, he has won some prizes and important partnerships for his business, which is expected to remain in incubation until the beginning of 2018. Nowadays, the company has a partner, André Thomazoni and five employees. With the first incentive, he has developed two initial prototypes. The idea is simple, he explains: complex structures such as hospitals, malls or factories usually have a boiler, and the steam produced moves over the pipelines under high pressure, and when it arrives at certain points an ordinary valve reduces it. As heat is wasted in this process, the Pressure Reducing Turbine (PRT), a Prosumir’s product,  does a similar work to that of ordinary valves, but redirecting the thermal energy, which would be otherwise dissipated, inside the turbine in the device; thermal energy is then converted into kinetic energy, then into mechanical energy, and finally into electric energy.

After noticing a gap in the turbine and energy reuse device market, Vieira decided to invest in this industry.  The manufacturers often end up preferring to build larger scale devices and thereby producing large amounts of electricity in notorious points of waste, such as factory chimneys and power plants, once they use the same machinery to produce both large and small scale devices. Therefore, the small points are practically unexplored. Nowadays, Prosumir has a fully functioning PRT at PepsiCo facilities in Porto Alegre (manufacturer of products such as Pepsi, Elma Chips, Gatorade, among others) with a 5 kW output. He explains that this turbine, which is the third and definitive prototype of the company, produces up to 3,500 kWh per month, which is enough to supply on average, the energy consumption of 14 houses during this same period.

However, Vieira adds that the main problem in the whole area is low investment. Other means of energy production, such as wind fields, solar energy, and the capture of oceanic currents,  which enjoy better reception and longer development time, still have difficulties to maintain and improve their techniques. The process between designing a prototype until its testing phase can be extended for years, even decades, for lack of money. But he is confident that his PRT’s may follow a different path from now on.

Vieira points out that Prosumir has a project with Gerdau for the installation of 600 kW in equipment and that the turbines need little maintenance. Most of the costs relates to purchase and installation – device prices ranges from R$ 52.000 (approximately US$ 15.000), for the small ones, to more than R$ 1 million (approximately US$ 306.000), for large ones. This equipment produces only clean energy in order to waste only remains, or produce them through their own process. According to Vieira, these characteristics must guarantee the efficiency and productivity of PRT’s, which are just one example of energy reuse, which can still be applied in different ways around the world, reducing pollution and spending on less lucrative ways of producing energy. In order to improve his product and develop new prototypes beyond his flagship, Vieira is now committed to his PhD in Mechanical Engineering at UFRGS - the Tesla’s turbine patented by Nikola Tesla at the beginning of last century to explore geothermal energy, which works without blades and by means of gas adhesion to its surface.

 

Translated by Rafaela S. Silva under the supervision and revision of Professor Márcia Moura da Silva (UFRGS)

Text in Portuguese available at: http://www.ufrgs.br/secom/ciencia/turbinas-reutilizam-energias-desperdicadas/

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