A “hidden resource” for clean power generation is being promoted in Congress and throughout the states, one that its supporters point out is being wasted without anyone noticing. The waste heat from industrial processes now has an advocacy group and a fledgling effort to get it recognized where financial players would notice -- in the tax code.

Supporters want equal treatment with other renewable resources and are waiting for the right moment to reintroduce legislation that would grant federal tax incentives to it.

An organization has even sprouted up with the catchy name of Heat is Power to draw attention to the resource.

“There really isn’t a market for waste heat and it’s really a lack of knowledge by policymakers, the public and others interested in clean energy,” said Kelsey Walker, director of government relations for TAS Energy.

The idea is to generate electricity from what is normally considered industrial pollution, heat that used in paper-making, oil and gas refining and other processes, and using that to generate steam and produce power. In short, a smokestack industry uses a waste product that is vented into the atmosphere to create an additional business to become a clean power producer.

The technique is distinguished from combined heat and power, which has been around for decades and uses heat from a municipal or institutional system to create steam and generate electricity.

The group wants to compare itself to the wind farmer catching the breezes and making the electricity with the ability to use what is available on-site.
To catch on, the resource needs some policy help, with either the state renewable portfolio standards crediting it as clean energy or through the tax code.

“The way our rules are written is quite prescriptive,” Walker said. ”If you’re wind you’re renewable. If you’re solar, you’re renewable.”

Now, Heat is Power wants to go to the states to be added to the list. A handful already includes waste heat.

At the federal level, getting the tax code amended would attract investors in much the same way other renewable have used it.

Last year, a U.S. House bill with bipartisan support was introduced to recognize the resources as renewable. The group is seeking a 30 percent investment tax credit and/or a 2.1 cents-per-kilowatt hour production tax credit, just like wind, solar and geothermal power generators receive.

“We’ve been working to get a significant group of Republicans on board before we introduce it again,” Walker said.

 "What we’re saying is that you might have the best renewable energy in the country because it’s base load,” Walker said, pointing out that the areas in the South and Midwest, thought to be renewable resource-poor, might be prime candidates.

The majority of the projects would be 10 megawatts or less.

TAS has developed a technology, its organic rankine cycle process that uses lower temperature resources that is being applied in the geothermal power industry. It can operate at 195 degrees, instead of the 900 degrees that are optimal for traditional steam turbines.

In the meantime, a few projects will be developed as the industry tries to get governments to add the technology to the clean energy list.

Bill Opalka is editor of RenewablesBiz Daily