In November 2014, Natural Resources Canada funded an energy mapping study in Alberta to determine how to improve energy efficiency. One of its findings was that if even 33% of the waste heat from Alberta’s two largest industrial sites was recaptured it could heat 15,200 homes, power another 5,100 homes and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 151,000 tonnes. This study highlights the inefficiency of energy sources like fossil fuels – 70% of the potential energy from fossil fuels is wasted to our environment.
James Cotton, Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at McMaster University, and his research team are trying to capture that 70% and use it for other purposes. Currently, their focus is converting waste heat from commercial ovens into electricity to power the restaurant. But their vision does not stop there. Once they have optimized something on the order of a commercial establishment, they want to grow these sustainable systems, like Lego, into bigger and bigger systems.
The applications of this technology are not limited to industry – waste heat recovery from your furnace could be used to power your home or heat it at a later time. Prof. Cotton’s group at McMaster is working on developing the technology to allow buildings to store thermal energy in a battery much like the electric battery used in a car.