Co-gen. It doesn’t have an impressive, hi-tech name – but co-gen technology is making industrial facilities more energy efficient than they have ever been. It’s short for ‘co-generation’ – also known as ‘Combined Heat and Power’ (CHP) – the process of generating electricity and heat at the same time, and making use of both in the place where they are generated.
ExxonMobil’s CHP turbine at our refinery in Antwerp, Belgium, is a great example of co-gen technology improving energy efficiency at an industrial scale. But what is co-gen and how does it work exactly?
The basic thinking behind co-gen is that we should try and make use of everything we generate – even things that normally go to waste. To power our refinery in Antwerp – where we make products like low-Sulphur fuel for ships – we have our own natural gas turbine.
The process of making electricity with the turbine generates two things: electricity (of course) and heat. Ordinarily, the heat would be wasted – but by putting a specially designed CHP turbine right next to the refinery’s distillation facility, we are able to make use of that heat in several ways.
Rather than being wasted, excess steam from the turbine is siphoned off in pipes and used around the refinery. We use it to do things like operate pieces of machinery. Recovered heat from the turbine is used to super heat crude oil during the refinery distillation process, so the co-gen was constructed beside the distillation tank.
The electricity generated by the turbine flows directly into the local power grid, where it powers our facilities across Belgium and also people’s homes. With the capacity to generate up to 130 megawatts of electricity, our turbine is able to provide enough electricity for up to 300,000 families.
Because we don’t need to generate as much heat for the refining process, the CHP turbine makes the facility highly energy efficient – reducing CO2 emissions from the process by around 200,000 tonnes, the same as taking around 90,000 cars off the roads of Belgium permanently.
The co-gen may not have an impressive or hi-tech name, but the improvements this technology can make to energy efficiency speak for themselves.