Fortlev Indústria e Comércio de Plásticos LTDA, a water tank, pipe and connectors producer based in Anápolis, Brazil, is operating the plastics industry's first facility using thermal energy instead of natural gas to heat the air for its rotational molding machines.
Crushed volcanic rocks are part of a thermal energy storage (TES) unit developed by Rosh Haayin, Israel-based Brenmiller Energy to serve as a zero-carbon alternative for manufacturers.
The bGen-brand TES unit uses biomass to heat crushed rocks to more than 600°C (1,112°F) to deliver hot air to the company's molding machines for polyethylene water storage tanks at its headquarters site.
Fortlev's bGen unit is the first TES system in the world powered by renewable energy for generating hot air for manufacturing plastic products.
"The rocks are the storage media used to store the heat. It is a type of volcanic rock. The biomass, in the form of wood pellets, is the source of energy used to charge the storage," Brenmiller CEO Avi Brenmiller said in an email.
Neither company is disclosing the cost of the project, which received direct funding and in-kind donations from the Israel Innovation Authority and the Brazilian Agency for Industrial Research and Innovation.
Founded in 1989, Fortlev produces tanks from 100 to 15,000 liters, PVC pipes and connections for cold water applications, PVC corrugated conduit and PVC roof tiles at eight manufacturing facilities in Brazil.
The company's products include industrial tanks for storing chemicals and fuels in addition to tanks for cisterns to store rainwater and potable water.
"Water tank manufacturing is a batch process in terms of heat consumption. So, a thermal energy storage technology which can deliver changing amounts of heat is a good match," Fortlev CEO Antonio Torres said in an email.
The 1 MWh bGen unit's crushed rocks can store energy for days. Then, when the company needs it, the heat can be used to produce clean steam, hot water or hot air on demand to mold plastic.
The bGen units also can be used to clean food, dry wood or complete other industrial processes using fossil fuels to generate heat.
By substituting biomass for natural gas, Fortlev expects to lower the fuel costs to heat the air by more than 75 percent and reduce the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with heating the air by about 800 metric tons per year.
Fortlev and Brenmiller Energy officials are in discussions to install 60 bGen units at the Anápolis facility, which they say will eliminate 48,000 metric tons of GHG emissions per year. That's equivalent to the GHG emissions released by 10,500 gasoline-powered passenger vehicles driven for one year.
The bGen units will be built at Fortlev Solar, a distributor of photovoltaic products based in Espírito Santo, Brazil.
Fortlev Solar is another company founded by Torres, but it doesn't share any management and serves different markets.
Fortlev Solar will open a manufacturing factory to produce bGen units for the Brazilian market. Torres said the plan is to complete 60 units in less than a year and have them operational in 2023.
The investment will help Fortlev deliver quality water storage products while respecting the environment, Torres added.
"By helping Fortlev lower our fuel expenses and decarbonize one of our thermal manufacturing processes, Brenmiller Energy's bGen technology is helping us realize this goal and do well while doing good," Torres said.
Fortlev officials will consider expanding the use of the bGen units to its seven other manufacturing facilities in Brazil.
By combining thermal storage, heat exchange and steam generation, Brenmiller officials said the bGen technology provides energy efficiency, output stability and scalability to decarbonize.
The technology also is flexible so processors can use electricity from the grid, solar panels or wind turbines with different thermal sources of energy, such as biomass, flue gas and recovered heat, to charge the bGen units.
"Forward-thinking industrial companies like Fortlev want to decarbonize their thermal processes. But until recently, there have been few, if any, reliable, cost-effective, long-lived solutions that allow them to do so," Avi Brenmiller said. "Our bGen technology enables these companies to start using renewable energy resources and waste heat to efficiently produce clean steam, hot water and hot air on demand, allowing them to decarbonize their thermal process — and in some cases, like Fortlev, reduce their fuel costs while doing so."
The partnership was important to support, according to Daniel Zonshine, ambassador of Israel in Brazil, who pointed to the Israel Innovation Authority and Brazilian research agency.
"It is inspiring to see this binational cooperation, where an innovative Israeli company implemented its groundbreaking technology in a factory of a large Brazilian company," Zonshine said in a news release. "This partnership has great potential in the Brazilian energy storage market and beyond."
In addition to generating hot air to mold plastic, Brenmiller officials are working with Philip Morris International in Romania, Enel in Italy and other industrial and utility customers to use its TES technology to decarbonize a range of processes.