The end of combustion – a happy ending?


Sebastian Kankkonen
M.Sc. (Energy Technology)

We have many reasons to change our energy consumption behavior and replace fossil fuels. However, even alternative energy sources have their drawbacks. Hydrogen is a hot topic, but its large-scale production and storage pose challenges. That is why we must also consider the potential for energy savings. By optimizing any industrial process to be more efficient, it is possible to save both energy and costs.

For several centuries, centralized energy production has relied heavily on combustion alone. The heating of households has been done by means of combustion for thousands of years. One turning point for the combustion that we can remember was the oil crisis in the early 1970’s when the world realized that the resources are not infinite, and the oil price soared.

There are several reasons to reconsider our energy use

Oil, along with other fossil fuels such as coal and gas, have been the cornerstone of energy production and transportation for all of us. Several mechanisms have been making us all rethink and change our energy consumption behavior.

Firstly, the cost mechanism with rising fuel prices made us start saving energy which decreased combustion. Then later, environmental regulations became more stringent and further decreased combustion of especially solid fuels. The advances in combustion technology have luckily compensated much.

In recent months, political unrest and the war in Ukraine have made us think about where the combustibles are coming from, and sanctions could be imposed to further decrease combustion of fossil fuels.

We do have several alternatives

Some of our alternatives have more obvious downsides than others. The combustion of biomass is still considered to be approvable; the coal cycle of wood-based fuels just circulates faster. Still, we do have other pollutants to the air than CO2, but they could to a certain degree be reduced by emission control equipment such as scrubbers and filters.

Nuclear energy is a source without CO2 emissions and does not generate emissions to the air. However, various events and technical design flaws have shown us in the past that nuclear energy is not a problem-free solution. The latest nuclear power plants have much more intense safety protocols to prevent nuclear catastrophes from occurring.

Alternative energy sources also have their downsides

Renewables, like water, solar or wind power, are emission-free energy sources. Even they have downsides, since they do affect nature by causing obstacles or barriers for other animals like fish or birds.

Geothermal projects have in general been an environmentally friendly way of producing energy. On a larger scale, they have reportedly generated unrest of the bedrock. Heat pumps are not generating energy from nothing either. Both are a source of heat energy but are also consuming electrical energy of higher exergy.

The challenges of hydrogen are related to production scales and storage

Hydrogen is a very hot topic today. If you are starting to see the pattern of my article you might expect me to start talking about the Zeppelin Hindenburg now. You are wrong. The challenge with hydrogen lies with the large-scale production and storage facilities.

Traditionally hydrogen production and consumption have been smaller scale applications and have been operating without problems for more than a century. There is no sense in producing hydrogen from other viable energy sources just for the sake of hydrogen production. We need to see the big picture.

There is a unique solution for each process

The one alternative left is the most obvious one. Saving energy. By optimizing any industrial process to be more efficient, we can save energy and save costs. In some cases, we can generate heat and recover it in an efficient way.

There is no quick fix, nor is there a single solution. Every client has their unique processes and challenges, and our task at Elomatic is to understand our client and to give them the solution that is the best for them.

Only then can we justify our existence. And maybe save the planet as well.