Nuon customers save money on gas

The power of magnetism

With increasing gas prices impacting profit margins, whether they are supplying electricity or gas, utilities need to look at ways of getting more out of the fuel. A technology that is already popular in the industrial sector may provide some help, says Junior Isles.

Factors such as electricity demand, high gas prices and competition from renewable generation, is seeing many of Europe’s utilities come under financial pressure. For those selling gas to industrial customers, finding a way to help those customers reduce gas consumption through more efficient usage could in turn not only benefit the utility’s bottom line but could also help it to keep those customers.

In October, Dutch energy supplier Nuon, a subsidiary of Swedish energy giant Vattenfall, signed a contract with UK-based cleantech company Maxsys Fuel Systems Ltd to become an exclusive supplier of Maxsys Fuel Systems, a piece of innovative equipment that cuts fuel costs and reduces CO2. Under the contract, Nuon has started selling and installing the equipment at its industrial customer sites in the Netherlands, with an option to extend to Germany and Sweden.

Speaking on the decision to partner with Maxsys, Jeroen Schut, Sales Manager at Nuon, commented: “Nuon has a commitment to maintain a reliable, sustainable and affordable supply of energy to its customer base, and to improve energy efficiency with customised, innovative solutions. It, therefore, makes perfect sense to partner with Maxsys to supply their fuel system to our customers so that they’ll not only save costs, but also help in our vision for more sustainable energy usage.”

The Maxsys Fuel System works by applying a calibrated magnetic field to the fuel prior to combustion, and can be applied to all types of combustion equipment. The technology can be integrated into existing combustion plants, and each unit is designed and built to the unique specifications of the individual plant.

According to Maxsys, experience has shown that typical energy savings of at least 5 per cent, with a return on investment normally experienced within two years, and sometimes as quickly as three months.

The roots of the technology date back to the 1990s from work conducted by Professor John Donaldson at Brunel University on the effect of magnetism on water.

Early development of the product was aimed at tackling engine fouling due to sooting on ships. However, its potential application to the industrial sector did not begin until 2005 when a French private equity company, specialising in cleantech funding, decided to invest in the technology as a business that would help to reduce CO2. This enabled significant investment in research and development at both Aston University and Birmingham University in the UK.

Real commercialisation efforts, however, did not start until Paul Finnegan, Commercial Director and CEO at Maxsys came on board.

“They had invested in research but I was brought into the business in 2007 to help commercialise the technology. Their [R&D] work enabled us to best workout how to apply the system to any given piece of plant under the circumstances that the plant is working,” said Finnegan. “I started targeting big energy users in the UK industrial sector, as well as some producers, offering systems to users, together with an analysis of the site.”

For each project, Maxsys therefore adopted an approach of performing analysis using independent people as well as developing its own method of working with each customer, where it takes pre-data to analyse the performance of equipment beforehand and post-data for analysing after installation.

“We don’t just sell the system, we do a full analysis of their plant each time,” noted Finnegan. “It’s something we do in every single job because buying our product is a capital expenditure, not a maintenance budget, and every capital expenditure item has to be justified. Whether it’s a company like Johnson Matthey group, who has now bought a significant amount of systems, or any other customer, we will conduct an analysis because it is a capital expenditure this allows for a quantifiable return on investment.”

Explaining the system in basic terms, Finnegan said: “all fossil fuels, oil and gas contain impurities. These may be bits of the storage tanks, minerals or bits of after-product that is extracted from the ground. Following the refining process by the utility providers, these particles are reined to a size of 20 nanometres or smaller; they would never manifest themselves unless the burner was set up badly.”

The Maxsys Fuel System, which is installed directly before a burner, applies a magnetic field to the fuel, the effect of which aggregates the impurities contained within the fuel to form a larger aggregates of about 200 nanometres. On leaving the system, the aggregates start to decay and separate back into its original constituents.

Finnegan noted: “This means it’s quite important where the system is located. It has to be as close as possible to the burner. The aim is to have the impurities still aggregated by the time they reach the point of combustion so oxygen and hydrocarbon molecules react better and release their energy to produce a hotter and more radiant flame. This is the promotion of perfect combustion”.

A boiler uses two types of energy – radiant energy and convective energy, i.e. heat from the hot gases, to heat the water tubes. If the energy is used at the radiant stage, it cannot be used at the convective stage. As the Maxsys system is designed to improve radiant energy, energy savings are greatest on a boiler where there are no systems in place to recapture or reuse convective energy.

According to Finnegan, the system can save up to 10 per cent in energy. He noted: “If you have been invested on flue gas recirculation or economisers to utilise waste energy, our system would make this process less efficient since you would now have less convective energy to use. So the overall saving would not be as great; and would be around 5-6 per cent.”

Installation of the system at the sites of a long list of well-known companies such as Dow Chemical, Union Papertech, Ford Motor Co and Arjo Wiggins, has now attracted the attention of energy utilities.

“When utility staff are out visiting some of these companies, which may be their customers and see these yellow boxes in front of the boiler, it creates an interest,” commented Finnegan.

It may have been such an encounter that sparked Nuon’s interest. Finnegan said: “They contacted us about a year ago and came to visit Ford’s research centre.” Months after that visit a contract was signed that will see Nuon sell Maxsys Fuel systems to its customers. Finnegan believes that the deal would allow Nuon to “lock-in” its industrial customers in terms of selling gas contracts. “By selling our system to their customers exclusively, gives them an advantage over their competitors and a unique selling position in the marketplace.

He added: “It fits the bill for them in three ways. First, it helps with their commitment to reducing carbon emissions. Second, it is an easy to implement and relatively low-cost thing to do, and they can see that there is already a customer base. And third, the exclusive arrangement with us would not only lock-out their competitors, it would also allow them to offer a utility supply fuel contract packaged with a Maxsys system. If any of Nuon’s customer in Holland or Sweden want to buy our system, they now have to buy it from Nuon.”

Nuon’s industrial electricity supply company, Emmtec, uses the system to reduce fuel consumption at its own generating plant and also supplies the system to its industrial electricity customers.

In a power plant, the system can be installed in front of oil or gas fired boilers but cannot be used in conjunction with a gas turbine. “The reason for this,” says Finnegan, “is because you need a system per burner, so you would have to put it on the fuel feed. But because gas turbines have a number of cans, and the effect of the system deteriorates with time and distance, the burner closest to the system would be more efficient than the one furthest away. This would result in vibrations.”

It can, however be used on the heat recovery. “We have an installation where there are four systems on the back of a GE gas turbine. Each of these weighs about three quarters of a tonne.”

Finnegan notes, however, that this is about the limit in terms of size. “Even if we scale the system up to the size of the Empire State Building, you can’t get the [magnetic] field any stronger.”

The next technical development will therefore be the development of the system as part of a burner. This will be possible as a result of the acquisition of a boiler burner company by the Selas Heat Technology group, which owns Maxsys. “The plan for the overall group is to develop a range of burners with the system already installed so that you are buying it as original equipment.”

Looking forward, Finnegan sees tie-ups with utilities like Nuon as the strategy for Europe. In the US, which is the company’s biggest market, it will continue to sell directly to large industrial conglomerates.

“Our strategy [in Europe] is to have partners like Nuon. In 2014 we will start looking at extending our relationship with them and other partners into Germany and the whole of Sweden”.

“At the moment, all of our talks are with continental Europe – northern Spain and southern France, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, the Benelux region and Italy – but no utilities in the UK. We are also in discussion with utilities in Canada and Mexico.”

The article is published in the January 2014 edition of the Energy Industry Times

Energy Industry Times_Jan 2014 (page 15)