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FLOBECK: Cogeneration can mean energy, water savings

January 26, 2014 Updated: January 26, 2014 at 8:55 am
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CO-GEN is not just a witty, pretty phrase stuck between co-ed and co-op in the dictionary.

It's a truly formidable enterprise employed in numerous countries across the globe to conserve energy and produce welcome dollars for local utilities and local economies.

Though known by myriad names - such as CHP, tri-generation, topping cycle plants, bottoming cycle plants, biofuel engine plants - they all employ the basic laws of thermodynamics to heat water, produce steam and thereby generate electrical power.

This is the power without which the traffic lights don't blink, air conditioning doesn't cool, computers don't compute and TV can't tell us the news of highway wrecks and forest fire dangers.

Meanwhile, GPS is powerless to tell us when we're lost.

Where is it written that we should spend fortunes to pick up and transport combustible trash to dumps on large plots of ground that otherwise might be used for higher and better more beneficial uses?

Could we then CO-GEN by burning the trash, creating enough heat to boil water, create steam and generate electricity, all without alienating environmentalists, involving Arabs or using fossil fuels?

We first learned about CO-GEN when managing a downtown Denver office building on 17th Street.

In the dead of winter, a pedestrian will see clouds of white emerging from man-holes in the middle of the street. These puffs are not from the mouths of humans working underground, but steam used to heat most of America's large downtown cities. We saw that we were spending bushels of dollars for trucks to drive into our basement to haul away wood, paper, and cardboard junk.

We also learned that the utility would pay us if we made steam and piped it back into their system, so we researched to discover a company in Canada that manufactured a clean burning self-contained unit the size of an 18-wheel semitrailer.

Our economic analysis showed we would save tens of thousands of dollars a month and pay off our investment in less than a year. We have been enthusiastic advocates of safe, clean CO-GEN ever since, and many years ago proposed such systems to the largest shopping centers in Colorado, but lawyers and insurance people had not yet discovered the political appeal of words like: green, clean, renewable or recyclable, so they overlooked an exciting new technology.

Please keep in mind that CO-GEN works even when the sun isn't shining and when the wind doesn't blow.

We begin our worldwide tour of varied applications illustrating CO-GEN with the Swedish Kalmar energy plant where bark, forest residue and wood chips are used as primary fuels; but also where the plant has turned to spent flue gas to augment energy supply.

Wastes create power and take the load off other alternatives to leave more capacity available to pump liquid waste and water.

The Ener-G operation in the UK reports reductions in carbon emissions of 20 percent in their CHP systems, or, Combined Heat Power Plant. They also offer discounts to customers to purchase and operate their own small units, spreading CHP to many more firms in the small to medium enterprise class.

Repsol's Sines plant in Portugal employs CHP to achieve significant savings using six different fuels, but always taking advantage of potential waste heat to augment steam production.

CO-GEN and CHP plants around the world have used farm waste, sticks, brush, as well as trash to produce electricity and have found myriad ways to employ previously overlooked - and thus wasted - heat from manufacturing and from petroleum, chemical, and pharmaceutical plants. Here is a genuine way to take the pressure off of our rivers and make the water/energy nexus work for our own survival.


Readers may email Jack Flobeck at

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