Trigeneration refers to the simultaneous generation of electricity and useful heating and cooling from the combustion of a biomass fuel or a solar heat collector. Conventional coal or nuclear-powered power stations convert only about 33% of their input heat to electricity. The remaining 67% emerges from the turbines as low-grade waste heat with no significant local uses so it is usually rejected to the environment.
What is Trigeneration
In a trigeneration system, the supply of high-temperature heat first drives a gas or steam turbine powered generator and the resulting low-temperature waste heat is then used for water or space heating. Such systems can attain higher overall efficiencies than cogeneration or traditional power plants, and provide significant financial and environmental benefits.
Trigeneration is one step ahead of cogeneration that is the residual heat available from a cogeneration system is further utilized to operate a vapor absorption refrigeration system to produce cooling; the resulting device thus facilitates combined heat power and cooling from a single fuel input. The heat produced by cogeneration can be delivered through various mediums, including warm water (e.g., for space heating and hot water systems), steam or hot air (e.g., for commercial and industrial uses).
Advantages of Trigeneration
Trigeneration is an attractive option in situations where all three needs exist, such as in production processes with cooling requirements. Trigeneration has its greatest benefits when scaled to fit buildings or complexes of buildings where electricity, heating and cooling are perpetually needed. Such installations include but are not limited to: data centers, manufacturing facilities, universities, hospitals, military complexes and colleges. Localized trigeneration has addition benefits as described by distributed generation. Redundancy of power in mission critical applications, lower power usage costs and the ability to sell electrical power back to the local utility are a few of the major benefits.
Most industrial countries generate the majority of their electrical power needs in large centralized facilities with capacity for large electrical power output. These plants have excellent economies of scale, but usually transmit electricity long distances resulting in sizable losses, negatively affect the environment.
Large power plants can use cogeneration or trigeneration systems only when sufficient need exists in immediate geographic vicinity for an industrial complex, additional power plant or a city. An example of cogeneration with trigeneration applications in a major city is the New York City steam system. The city of Sydney has embarked upon an ambitious trigeneration plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 70 percent by producing 477 MW of local power using trigeneration systems.
One of the technologies that have the best performance for being integrated into a trigeneration system is the fuel cell. Systems working on fuel cell technology can transform the energy of a chemical reaction into electrical energy, heat and water. Its main practical applications range from bulk production of electricity and heat to its use in sectors such as aerospace, maritime or surface transport and portable devices.
Potential in the Middle East
There is very good potential for deployment of trigeneration in the Middle East. The constant year-round heat coupled with expensive glass exteriors for hotel, airports, offices, apartments etc result in very high indoor temperatures. The combination of distributed generation of power and utilization of waste heat can provide a sustainable solution to meet the high demand for refrigeration in the region. District cooling has the potential to provide a viable solution to meet air conditioning requirements in commercial buildings, hotels, apartment blocks, shopping malls etc. Trigeneration systems can play a vital role in reducing energy requirements in Middle East nations. Apart from providing cooling needs, such systems can reduce the need for new power plants, slash fossil fuel requirements and substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the region.