Company profile: Qpinch reclaims wasted energy by mimicking nature
Wasting heat energy harms both the environment and the economic efficiency of a process. Qpinch (formerly known as Caloritum) in Antwerp, Belgium, has developed an innovative chemical process to recycle waste heat to a more useful level than conventional heat pumps.
‘This is not just a problem for the chemical industry, it’s a problem for the entire industry,’ says Christian Heeren, one of the company’s two founders. Companies buy gas and burn it to produce steam to run all kinds of processes from the food industry to papermaking and chemical production. Such processes can be running for around 8000 hours a year, which translates into a huge energy demand and a lot of CO2 emissions. ‘At some point, the steam is deteriorated to the point where it is no longer useful.’ To comply with legal requirements, companies often have to spend additional energy and effort to further cool down the waste heat, before they are allowed to release it into the environment.
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The reactor takes real waste heat from one of Indaver’s thermal treatment plants and resupplies it as steam, but it can be tailored to different input and output conditions to fit a potential customer’s requirements. ‘From the moment you can show industry that you have reliable equipment, you can start to sell it into the market,’ says Heeren. Winning the RSC’s Emerging Technologies competition in 2015 has also helped convince customers of the quality of the science behind the technology. The first commercial installation is in the process of being built at an ethanol plant in Poland, he adds. ‘The capacity will be four times the size of the Indaver pilot project.’
Collaboration has been critical in developing the technology to meet the needs of different industries. Qpinch has support from the port authorities in Antwerp, who are encouraging companies in the port complex to improve sustainability. ‘Within the port is the biggest petrochemical cluster in Europe,’ says Marc van Peel, vice mayor of Antwerp and chairman of the port authority. ‘In the petrochemical sector, we’re seeing an enormous increase in production volumes, but also a decrease in emissions. This initiative is a good step forward in integrating sustainability in the petrochemical cluster.’