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The "KompACT" project uses heated water to drive turbines with the use of the highest possible proportion of waste heat.

© DLR, CC-BY 3.0

If primary energy consumption in Germany is to fall by 50 percent by 2050, the problem of energy loss in the form of industrial waste heat must be tackled. And it’s a global problem –more than half of all primary energy used is lost in this way, according to some estimates.

Scientists at the Technische Hochschule Nürnberg have therefore been investigating the most efficient and sustainable methods for converting unused heat into electricity, in a project which brings together six partners from the field of energy technology. The "KompACT" project is based on the centuries-old principle of steam power – using heated water to drive turbines – but in a highly compact form that uses the highest possible proportion of waste heat.

The working group for decentralised energy conversion and storage at the TU, has already carried out analyses in a specially-constructed plant on the campus. According to the team’s leader Dr Frank Opferkuch in a press release, the tests demonstrate “that steam turbines and the associated steam process have a high potential for the utilisation field of process-related and sustainable waste heat conversion.”

Opferkuch points out that while steam technology is nothing new, it has only been optimised for application in large, central power plants in recent years. “With the switch to renewable energies, however, our energy system in the future will increasingly be made up of decentralised units. This will primarily require smaller, more flexible plants, which we are now working on developing," he says in the release.

The focus of KompACT will be to develop these scaled-down, off-grid units to take steam power into the 21st century. To this end, the working group will be developing micro steam turbines, compact steam generators and low maintenance system architecture over the next three years.