//More efficient industrial furnaces to boost European industry competitiveness

Eight countries will be joining forces under the EC-funded VULKANO project coordinated in Spain by CIRCE

The project forecasts a 20% increase in industrial furnace efficiency in the steel, ceramics and aluminium sectors, as well as a 27% reduction in the use of fossil fuels

Energy intensive industries are constantly facing challenges to enhance their process efficiency, reliability and flexibility. This is especially true for processes that involve industrial furnaces due to their high energy consumption rates, placing them under the spotlight of much research to make the whole system more sustainable and competitive.

The VULKANO project emerged with this objective in mind, with the aim of designing, implementing and validating innovative solutions, and applying them jointly so as to boost and increase the efficiency, both in terms of energy and the environment, of industrial furnaces supplied by natural gas and of their related processes. The initiative has been allocated close to 7 million euros by the European Commission and is coordinated by the Centre of Research for Energy Resources and Consumption (CIRCE). During VULKANO’s planned three-and-a-half-year duration, CIRCE will be heading up a consortium of 12 partners from Slovenia, France, Italy, UK, Poland, Germany, Turkey and Spain with a view to bolstering Europe’s industry.

The VULKANO project will focus on modernising the two most widespread kinds of industrial furnaces: those used during the pre-heating and fusion phases, which are used in two energy-intensive sectors (steel and ceramics). It will then analyse the feasibility of replicating them in another key sector: aluminium. VULKANO expects to achieve a 20% increase in the global efficiency of these furnaces, and at least 27% fuel savings, which would lead to a lower associated environmental impact.

The partners will be able to achieve these objectives by developing and integrating five innovative strategies. Firstly, they will develop technology based on phase-change materials in order to store and reuse the power obtained from the process both up-and downstream from the furnace, as well as new refractors with which to overcome the current limitations on these materials in terms of durability and to improve the furnace’s specific energy efficiency. It is also estimated that up to 40% less natural gas will be used and replaced with alternative or renewable energy sources. To do so, either a new burner will be designed or current furnaces will be adapted to run on syngas obtained from biomass or other gases recovered from the process itself. Secondly, they will develop a system to monitor and control the process in order to enhance overall efficiency by solving the problems that individual subsystems have in terms of integration.

Lastly, the project will also involve developing a holistic predictive tool that will lead to greater process optimisation by integrating these new solutions throughout the value chain of processes linked to the furnace. This predictive tool will prove extremely helpful in the plant operators’ decision-making in terms of choosing readjustment strategies, encouraging global efficiency, increasing competitiveness and reducing environmental impact within the product’s value chain, always bearing in mind the system’s entire life cycle and its cost-effectiveness.
The solutions developed will be implemented in two real facilities: one in the ceramics sector (in Spain) and another in the steel sector (in Slovenia). And in order to validate the viability of replicating said solutions, they will also be applied in a third sector: aluminium (in Turkey).

A well-balanced consortium comprised by end users, technological solution providers and R&D centres will ensure that the objectives can be reached satisfactorily, and will enable easy replication of the strategy to improve European industrial furnaces towards more modern, energy-efficient, affordable and environmentally-friendly designs.