The idea of capturing wasted heat — particularly the steam that billows from industrial stacks — and converting it into energy is again gaining buzz. This time, due not only to soaring energy prices, but to Tom Casten, founder of Recycled Energy Development (RED), who in partnership with Denham Capital Management is developing a $1.5 billion portfolio of energy recycling projects.


The idea was espoused this morning by John Topping, President of Climate Institute, during The Geopolitics of Energy Sustainability forum hosted by Harper’s Magazine in Washington DC. In recent months The AtlanticNPR, and US News and World Report have run stories; perhaps most significantly, Forbes published a story last week praising RED’s work. 

Casten posits the US can cut 20% of its CO2 emissions if companies capture the wasted heat from their industrial processes and turn it into electricity.  But the economic incentives for doing so are all wrong.  For example, a nonutility company that captures its heat waste can use the electricity to power its own processes, but cannot sell the excess and transfer it by private wires to a buyer. The practice is illegal in almost every state.  As a result, there’s little financial incentive to cull the wasted energy. 

RED’s trying to highlight the missed opportunity through pilot projects. Forbes describes a silicon smelter facility in West Virginia. 

The idea is not new and has long made environmentalists nervous, fearing it stalls our movement away from fossil fuel powered facilities and toward forms of clean energy.

But in these unusual times, the idea that efficiency is a significant form of energy, in all its guises, is worth consideration.

Story by Victoria Schlesinger. This article originally appeared in Plenty in September 2008. The story was added to

Copyright Environ Press 2008

Waste energy -- a light at the end of the tunnel?
Capturing wasted energy could cut CO2 by 20%.