European Commission lists the project - completed successfully in September 2019 - as one of the co-funded 'success stories' of the Horizon 2020 programme. The outcome? A predictive model to accelerate innovation, with net consumption savings, higher efficiency and reduced emissions
To build higher-performing ceramic kilns that consume and pollute less: this was the goal of the DREAM (Design for Resource and Energy efficiency in ceramic kilns) project, co-funded by the EU and led by SACMI Forni and CRIT (Centro di ricerca e innovazione tecnologica) together with 11 other European partners from the university, industrial and research worlds. Completed in 2019, the project is now one of the 'success stories' showcased in the Research and Innovation Directorate General section of the EU Commission website.
At the heart of the DREAM project lay the development of a computerised kiln model where all the key stages of the process – infeed, pre-heat, firing, indirect cooling and final cooling – are sub-divided into discrete moments and analysed using equations of high predictive power. The result? Extremely useful, measurable data on the anticipated results and a model useful for accelerating innovation.
Aspects tested by the project included the feasibility of powering the kilns with micro-turbines in place of traditional large-scale turbines. The idea was to produce an immediate economic return (excess energy produced by large turbines is usually fed into the mains grid, generating revenue that is, however, taxed) and simplify plant flows by allowing self-production of the exact amount of energy needed to power electrical and thermal systems while permitting more efficient management of any power outages.
"One of the advantages of the predictive model", points out Gabriele Frignani from SACMI Forni, "is that it allows the effectiveness of specific changes to kiln design or burnt gas thermal energy management to be tested in advance". For example, the model (and the subsequent tests performed on actual kilns) highlighted that directing the heat to the spray dryers instead of other parts of the plant yielded a more than proportional increase in efficiency.
Another part of the project concerned the development and testing of a new generation of kiln linings (new paints and refractory materials) that reduce heat loss and offer unprecedented resistance to chemical aggression: "All-new products for the market", notes Gabriele Frignani, "that are now an integral part of the SACMI Forni kiln range". What's more, these materials also make linings last longer and reduce maintenance costs.
From an environmental and energy perspective, these measures as a whole can, at factory level, yield highly significant savings. A look at the test data shows drops in energy consumption of more than 5% (i.e. a factory consuming 5 million cubic metres of gas or its electrical energy equivalent would release 500 tons less CO2 into the atmosphere). In any case, the thermal and electrical energy savings obtained from gas combustion (as opposed to the mains power grid) give a net reduction in carbon dioxide emissions in the proportion of 2 kg of CO2 for each m3 of burnt gas.
Investigation into more efficient management of production voids and cutting-edge factory emissions monitoring software completed the project. Moreover, the latter has also laid the foundations for the development of a new generation of multi-use filters capable of significantly lowering emissions, including 'complex' particulates like nitrogen oxides. This heralds what will, in all probability, become a necessity after 2023 when EU regulations (BREF) on industrial emissions limits are reviewed.
"Increased levels of knowledge in areas that might be decisive in keeping ahead of market developments, standards and consumption patterns", underlines Gabriele Frignani, "have been a pivotal part of the DREAM project, as have the opportunities that stem from working with international and multidisciplinary teams at the very highest level". Of course, industrial tests remain absolutely necessary as they “apply the predictive model on already-operational kilns” to assess model efficiency and overcome its limits.
In short, SACMI Forni takes an approach that seeks to generate added value. As well as incorporating some of the innovations developed during the DREAM project into its new product range, SACMI Forni works alongside customers daily to perform in-the-field testing of this new approach to kiln engineering/control and so augment sustainability, competitiveness and efficiency.
LINK: DREAM Project – More info on the European Commission Website (General Directorate for Research and Innovation).