Federal Triangle / Heat Treating / Commentary/Columns

A Breakthrough in Heat Treatment is Coming

August 2, 2012
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New technology to cut energy use is constantly in development. It appears that a new and very practical technology will soon be available for dramatic heat-transfer efficiency improvements.

Readers of this journal know that the thermal-processing sector is the most energy-consumptive of all industrial operations in the world economy. It is estimated that U.S. “heat treatment” is a $15-20 billion/year business, and that does not encompass many other forge or furnace-using activities such as in commercial food processing, ceramics or glass making, or a myriad of other small users.

According to the Metal Treating Institute, about 725 dedicated U.S. businesses are commercial heat treaters, and an additional 16,000 captive operations exist. Every year this collective lot tries diligently, according to the International Federation for Heat Treatment and Surface Engineering, to reduce process time by 50%, reduce production costs by 75%, increase furnace life tenfold, achieve zero emissions and reduce energy use by 80%. Just U.S. commercial heat treaters consume over 500 trillion BTUs annually, which represents more than 20% of yearly business costs. Also, as a rule of thumb, America is exceeded in equivalent European measures by 1.5 times and worldwide by 2.5 times.

New technology to cut energy use is constantly in development. One is an HMFP (high magnetic field processing) heat-free heat-treating method, which may or may not work (or be appropriate) for all applications. Another work in progress is termed “energy optimization,” which attempts to improve efficiency by balancing (electrical) energy inputs to furnaces. But the kicker to this general description must always cite the fact that approximately 40% of all energy input is wasted and lost in process heat treatments.  

It appears that a new and very practical technology will soon be available for dramatic heat-transfer efficiency improvements. This patented technology is called HeatWorX. It is from Onyx Scientific Inc., which utilizes a patented thermal energy transfer and directional refractory insulator and control system to achieve low-loss thermal transfer over large distances of a kilometer or more. A spin-off of HeatWorX is a thermal-capture blanket that channels thermal energy to an on-site boiler to create steam to drive an off-the-shelf electricity generating system. This energy output can be used in heat-treat furnace operation or sold back to the power grid. You may want to sit down for this next bit. It is expected that from 40-80% of radiant energy loss can be captured adjacent to the furnace.

HeatWorX blankets can operate at up to 600°F in air without protection and up to 6330°F in an inert environment. The blanket is a thin structure with an external support layer and an interior composed of a carbon foam with graphene and other conductive materials. Graphene was first described by Hanns-Peter Boehm in 1962 as a single-layer carbon foil or sheet, densely packed, that appears as an “atomic scale chicken wire.”

Graphene gives HeatWorX two primary and necessary features: extraordinary thermal conductivity and extraordinary breaking strength 200 times greater than steel, with tensile strength of 19 Mpsi. The graphene is contained within a flexible carbon foam in HeatWorX blanket structures that can be hung or draped as a panel adjacent to the radiating walls of operating equipment. According to Onyx Scientific’s Richard von Hack-Prestinary, president of Advanced Systems and Technology, the patented and proprietary blanket composition and structure is “an efficient, practical, affordable means to recapture wasted and lost energy in industrial environments.”

Onyx Scientific is currently completing demonstration sets and system designs and will seek industrial partners and sites to validate the technology.

It is anticipated that a user’s plant facilities engineer could easily install and operate such a device. An industrial service firm or an agent for an electric utility could be the system configuration contractor and installer. Regardless of whether a heat user’s original fuel supply is electricity or natural gas, this seems to offer a way to curtail waste and financial loss, and in a major way. It is an objective of Onyx Scientific developers to offer standard-sized components that can keep costs down while getting the job done.

According to von Hack-Prestinary, “Onyx will offer this new capability but wants also to have the inputs, participation and dialogs that are needed to define the best routes to improved efficiencies.”

If you want to talk about this promising breakthrough, telephone von Hack-Prestinary at 806-317-9090 or call Raymond Donofrio, Onyx CEO, at 253-224-7614. IH

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