Energy price rises: 3 ways for manufacturers to cope

The price of fossil fuels has risen sharply because of rising inflation and global sociopolitical turmoil. Manufacturers across all industries have seen an increase in their energy bills as a direct result of this.

Thus, hindering their ability to maintain production without passing on higher costs to their customers.

However, how are manufacturers able to cope when prices continue to rise? Is technology a workable solution to the problem?

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the manufacturing sector has shown remarkable ability to cope with the unexpected. With the industry quickly adapting to new ways of working. Now, manufacturers have to face yet another challenge: a sudden increase in energy prices.

Several industry groups have recently expressed concern that this situation could be disastrous for businesses in energy-intensive sectors. For example, the British Ceramic Confederation told the BBC that some members would be forced to stop production.

Luckily, investing in the right technologies can help manufacturers minimise their reliance on the volatile prices of fossil fuels. Thus, firms are prepared for the future in the long run. But what are the technologies that offer the fastest return on investment (ROI)?

1) Low-carbon microgrids

What is a low-carbon microgrid?

A point of common coupling (PCC) is what creates a microgrid. It also includes a source of energy supply and a charge/discharge storage system, such as batteries. Traditional microgrids are dependent on fossil fuels for their power. On the other hand, low-carbon microgrids utilise renewable sources such as solar panels or wind turbines.

The price of both renewable energy and modern storage solutions is dropping. So, low-carbon microgrids can offer significant savings while reducing a firm's carbon footprint and, therefore, its environmental taxes.

Additionally, microgrids offer reliable energy independently from the main grid, protecting companies against disruptions that might result from cyberattacks or political upheaval. This is especially useful in sectors where security is paramount, such as data centres and military bases.

2) Waste-to-energy processes

Turning production scrap into usable energy is a great example of a circular economy. There are a few different methods that can be utilised to recover energy from waste. These techniques can turn the by-products of manufacturing processes into power, heat, and even transport fuel.

The most common waste-to-energy method is incineration, but this technique is not kind to the environment. Emerging technologies can produce energy from waste without direct combustion, such as gasification, pyrolysis, and thermal depolymerisation. Nevertheless, these methods still call for temperatures that are quite high.

Non-thermal technologies, on the other hand, are completely environmental-friendly. One of the most common of these is anaerobic digestion, which is particularly common in plants that process food. All types of organic waste can be repurposed using this process. It does so by breaking it down in an oxygen-free tank and transforming it into biogas and biofertilizer.

As a consequence, it is a good option for businesses that generate a significant amount of organic waste. An example of this would be breweries, distilleries, and food processing plants.

In most cases, companies can amortise the initial cost of this green technology in under five years.

3) Industrial heat recovery systems

Between 20 and 50 per cent of the energy used in industrial processes is simply released into the atmosphere. This is according to the European Commission's Community Research and Development Information Service (CORDIS).

On the other hand, it is possible to capture and reuse the heat that industrial processes produce. The extra heat can also be sold if that option is available.

The procedure is straightforward and can be used to collect residual heat from exhaust gas, fluids, or hot air. This is with the help of dedicated technology, such as heat exchangers or heat pumps. It is especially helpful to have heat exchangers because they have exceptional capabilities for recovering energy. In fact, they can increase the heat production of a boiler by over 20 per cent in some cases.

It is essential for businesses that operate at high temperatures on a regular basis. These sectors include metalworking, chemical plants, ceramics, and glass. It is possible to put the heat that was recovered to use in subsequent stages of the manufacturing process. For instance, pre-heating ovens and furnaces, or they can be used for space heating.

In the face of global events that impact fuel prices, manufacturers might feel powerless. However, investing in the right technologies is the first step to take back control.