April 2010 Vol. 237 No. 4


Natural Gas Advancements For Industrial Customers

William E. Liss and Daniel Willems, Gas Technology Institute

Outsourcing of jobs. Plants moving offshore. U.S. industrial manufacturing has seen tough times in recent years – and natural gas has been part of that journey.

The U.S. economy, however, remains undergirded by a highly productive and continually changing manufacturing sector.

Even after years of stiff international competition and turmoil, The Manufacturing Institute reports the U.S. remains the world leader in industrial output at $1.6 trillion (22% of world production) – a fact that would surprise many.

A productive and vibrant manufacturing sector is the key to economic growth and exports. And, with an expanding domestic supply, natural gas is poised to help manufacturers improve their competitive positioning while also tackling challenges such as reducing carbon emissions.

Energy Information Administration data show the U.S. industrial sector consumes more than 7.5 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of natural gas – in key sectors such as chemicals, food production, primary metals, nonmetallic minerals, paper, fabricated metal products and others – including producing natural gas. U.S. manufacturers are also actively using combined heat and power (CHP) systems, with nearly 1 Tcf of natural gas being used in CHP systems to efficiently generate power and heat for the industrial sector.

Gas Technology Institute (GTI) has a robust industrial RD&D program, aimed at ensuring natural gas remains a key energy source that helps manufacturers enhance their global competitiveness by boosting productivity, increasing energy efficiency and cost-effectively addressing environmental regulations. Many of GTI’s industrial RD&D projects are leveraged public-private initiatives with manufacturing partners, equipment suppliers, the natural gas industry, the U.S. Department of Energy Industrial Technologies Program (DOE-ITP), state organizations such as the California Energy Commission (CEC) and others.

The following case studies highlight three real-world technology developments aimed at improving industrial competitiveness, increasing energy efficiency and reducing carbon emissions.

Case Study No. 1 – Transport Membrane Condenser: A Manufacturing Innovation
With tremendous quantities of energy and water being lost out exhaust stacks in the U.S every day, industrial boilers and other equipment are throwing away more than $10 billion per year in waste energy. The majority of these industrial systems miss the opportunity to effectively recover low-temperature sensible and latent heat.

The innovative transport membrane condenser (TMC) technology developed by GTI enables efficient, cost-effective and environmentally clean natural gas-fired processes (including but not limited to steam generation) by capturing sensible and latent waste heat and water vapor from exhaust flue gases. When used with industrial and commercial boilers, the technology is the cornerstone of an advanced heat recovery system (AHRS) that boosts fuel-to-steam efficiency to as high as 95% (on a higher heating value basis) while also recovering usable, clean water from the natural gas combustion products.

Baxter Transport Membrane Condenser (TMC) Installation photograph

The TMC technology is a key element of an advanced, high-efficiency boiler program undertaken with support from the natural gas industry, USDOE, CEC and other partners. The latest-generation TMC technology has been installed and commissioned at Baxter Healthcare in Thousand Oaks, CA. This advanced energy efficiency technology has increased the existing natural gas boiler efficiency from about 81-82% to 93-94% – saving Baxter more than 12% on its fuel cost for this boiler while also reducing carbon emissions by more than 12% and reducing its need for fresh water.

GTI has licensed the TMC/AHRS technology for certain fields of use to Cannon Boiler Works, a supplier of boiler economizers (www.cannonboilerworks.com). The TMC/AHRS technology is highly synergistic with the current Cannon Boiler product line and will be available in 2010 for both new and retrofit boilers covering a range of boiler sizes. While supplying significant energy savings, the innovative and commercially viable TMC technology promotes manufacturing competitiveness and serves as a pathway for cost-effective carbon emission reductions.

Case Study No. 2 – Next-Generation Glass Melting: A Long-Awaited Alternative
Historically, glass has been produced by melting minerals at very high temperatures, followed by formation into various products. The basic industrial approach has not substantially changed for well over 100 years. This process is highly energy-intensive and is carried out in massive, multimillion-dollar furnaces with limited production flexibility and which must undergo a costly rebuild every five years or so.

A key glass-industry challenge has been to develop a lower-cost glass melter to make the same range of glass quality, but which uses less energy, has a lower capital cost and footprint, generates lower emissions and features greater production flexibility (e.g., easier to stop and start, ability to switchover to produce other glass products). Until now, no alternative melting system has met all these requirements.

Through the sponsorship of the natural gas industry, DOE-ITP and a consortium of glass-manufacturing companies and others, GTI has developed and demonstrated a next-generation glass-melting system that uses submerged combustion melting (SCM) to make glass and other materials. The SCM technology approaches glass production by segmenting the melting system into several stages – melting, homogenization and refining instead of the current practice of using a single, large tank melter.

In this segmented approach, separately optimized stages for high-intensity melting, rapid refining and heat recovery presents great promise as a way of producing glass in a more efficient manner than by traditional melters, while also substantially lowering upfront capital investment, reducing equipment size, reducing energy consumption and increasing operating flexibility.

Indiana Melting & Manufacturing (IMM), LLC (2321 W. Progress Dr., La Porte, IN 46350-7782) is working to launch the first commercial U.S. plant using the SCM technology licensed from GTI. The IMM SCM plant will produce a glassy abrasive material from waste dust (material that is normally sent to a hazardous-materials landfill).

U.S. industries have relied for a long time on proven technologies, but global competition is leading them to explore new approaches. Along with glass and waste vitrification, there are several other potential SCM applications in producing mineral wool and fiberglass. The next-generation SCM technology is poised to increase manufacturing flexibility, productivity and competitiveness in a range of nonmetallic mineral product sectors enabling the creation and retention of domestic jobs.

Case Study No. 3 – RASERT Technology Impacting The “Real World”
The GTI-patented Reverse-Annulus Single-Ended Radiant Tube (RASERT) technology, licensed to Fives North American Combustion, Inc., is providing real-world benefits in heat-treating and other indirect heating industrial applications (www.namfg.com).

The advanced RASERT product increases thermal efficiency and reduces NOx emissions – while most importantly providing the potential for boosting productivity rates where feasible in gas-fired heat-treating furnaces.


A batch furnace field test at Akron Steel Treating Co. demonstrated a fuel-consumption savings of more than 51%, with emissions of carbon dioxide reduced by a similar amount. This development was sponsored by the Ohio Department of Development (ODOD), USDOE, the Energy Solutions Center (ESC) and the natural gas industry.

An additional field test of the RASERT technology was supported by CEC and the gas industry at California Steel Industries (CSI). This testing validated efficiency gains and emissions reductions. The CSI furnace test yielded a 25% improvement in thermal efficiency and reductions of NOx, CO and carbon dioxide by approximately 55%, 58% and 25%, respectively.

The North American natural gas supply picture has shifted dramatically over the past two years with surging U.S natural gas production – particularly from new shale gas resources. This change has the benefit – among others – of reducing U.S. reliance on imported natural gas. Evidence of this is the nearly 30% reduction in net gas imports over the past two years. This beneficially creates domestic manufacturing jobs in the natural gas industry and improves U.S. balance of trade. The future continues to look bullish for domestic natural gas production.

More importantly, these new supplies have dramatically improved current and future natural gas prices from an end user’s perspective. This will help retain the important role of natural gas in the manufacturing sector, improving the competitive position of domestic producers while making the U.S. an attractive market for new industrial investment.

With hopeful signs of economic recovery on the horizon, there are opportunities for an improved manufacturing sector in the U.S. GTI – in collaboration with the natural gas industry, federal and state government agencies and manufacturing partners – is continuing to target key technology developments that address the industrial sector’s need for increased productivity, energy savings and cost-effective environmental compliance solutions that enhance U.S. manufacturing competitiveness.

We would like to express our appreciate for the support of our natural gas industry partners through Utilization Technology Development (www.utd-co.org), GTI’s Sustaining Membership Program members, the USDOE Industrial Technologies Program, the California Energy Commission and other partners.

William E. Liss, Managing Director, End Use Solutions Sector, 847-768-0753, Bill.liss@gastechnology.org.

Daniel Willems, Director, Industrial R&D, 847-768-0877, dan.willems@gastechnology.org.

The Manufacturing Institute, “The Facts About Modern Manufacturing,” 8th Edition (2009).

Energy Information Administration, Manufacturing Energy Consumption Survey, http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/mecs/.
Natural Gas Monthly, http://www.eia.doe.gov/oil_gas/natural_gas/data_publications/natural_gas_monthly/ngm.html.

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