Putting the Lid on Greenhouse Gas

Chris Linville

July 1, 2002

According to the National Academy of Sciences, the Earth’s surface temperature has risen by about 1 degree Fahrenheit in the past century, with accelerated warming during the past two decades. There is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities. Human activities have altered the chemical composition of the atmosphere through the buildup of greenhouse gases-such as nitrous oxides (NOx), carbon dioxide (CO2) and carbon equivalents (CE).

In the United States, approximately 6.6 tons (almost 15,000 pounds carbon equivalent) of greenhouse gases are emitted per person every year. Emissions per person increased about 3.4 percent between 1990 and 1997. Most of these emissions (about 82 percent), are from burning fossil fuels in industrial/commercial processes, generating electricity and motor vehicles.

From an emotional and "feel good" point of view, reducing the amount of greenhouse gas into the earth’s atmosphere is the right thing to do. After all, how can anyone be against clean air and water? Does anybody think smog and acid rain are a good thing? Companies with any marketing or public relations savvy will talk up their commitment to the environment.

While many companies undoubtedly have a genuine interest in protecting the environment, it would be naive to think altruism is the only incentive. Financial and regulatory issues tend to pop up as a motivator as well.

Reducing Emissions Through Insulation

In recent years, the mechanical insulation industry has made efforts to promote its products for their ability to cut energy costs. Additionally, insulation’s ability to reduce greenhouse emissions is also being touted. Through his company, Brayman Insulation Consultants LLC, Bill Brayman has been on the forefront of this push. To help illustrate the scope of his efforts, last year he made a presentation titled "Reduction and Documentation of NOx, CO2 and CE ‘Greenhouse Gas’ Emissions through the Use of Industrial Insulation" for the Southwest Insulation Contractors Association (SWICA).

Brayman, an engineer based in Sterrett, Ala., has traveled to various industrial facilities throughout the United States doing energy appraisals. Using techniques developed through the National Insulation Association (NIA) Insulation Energy Appraisal Program (IEAP) and the 3E Plus® computer calculation program created by North American Insulation Manufacturers Association (NAIMA), along with his own expertise, he has provided plant officials quantitative, documented data on the benefits of proper insulation installation.

SWICA was particularly interested in NOx, primarily because it had heard about companies becoming eligible for credits through savings of NOx emissions. "SWICA basically came to me and asked, ‘How can you reduce NOx in a plant through the use of insulation?’" he said. "They wanted to know how can you demonstrate it and how do you go about doing it."

He continues, "My point was, we can show you, with a bit of education, how insulation will save the amount of greenhouse gas being released into the atmosphere. You do it by documenting how many emissions are being discharged before you insulate and how much after you insulate. The change in the amount discharged gives you your net savings."

Brayman explains that NOx forms when fossil fuel is burned at high temperatures, as in a combustion process. He points out that 46 percent of the primary source of NOx comes from utility-based, industrial and commercial venues that burn fossil fuels. These are the areas that mechanical insulation contractors would like to reach. (Motor vehicles and all other sources account for the remaining 54 percent [with motor vehicles accounting for 49 percent of that total].) Fossil fuels emit some 22 billion tons of CO2 into the Earth’s atmosphere each year. Such emissions could rise 55 percent by 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Coal is particularly dirty, containing more carbon than any other fuel, releasing carbon, mercury, lead and sulfur into the air. Gasoline continues to be a growing habit, with the United States by far the world’s leading guzzler in both yearly per capita use and total consumption.

What Does NOx Cause?

According to information provided by Brayman, there are a variety of unpleasant byproducts of NOx emissions. Several of them are described as follows.

Ground Level Ozone (Smog)

Ground level ozone, or smog, is formed when NOx and volatile organic compounds react in the presence of heat and sunlight. Children, people with lung diseases such as asthma, and people who work or exercise outside are susceptible to adverse effects such as damage to lung tissue and reduction in lung function. Ozone can be transported by wind currents and cause health impacts far from the original sources. Millions of Americans live in areas that don’t meet the health standards for ozone. Other impacts from ozone include damaged vegetation and reduced crop yields.

Acid Rain

NOx and sulfur dioxide react with other substances in the air to form acids, which fall to earth as rain, snow, or dry particles. Some may be carried by the wind for hundreds of miles. Acid rain damages forests; causes deterioration of cars, buildings and historical monuments; and causes lakes and streams to become acidic and unsuitable for many fish.

Water Quality Deterioration

Increased nitrogen loading in water bodies, particularly coastal estuaries, upsets the chemical balance of nutrients used by aquatic plants and animals. Additional nitrogen accelerates "eutrophication," which leads to oxygen depletion and reduces fish and shellfish populations. NOx air emissions are one of the largest sources of nitrogen pollution to the Chesapeake Bay of the mid-Atlantic United States.

Toxic Chemicals

In the air, NOx reacts readily with common organic chemicals, and even ozone, to form a wide variety of toxic products.


NOx reacts with ammonia, moisture and other compounds to form nitric acid vapor and related particles. Human health concerns include effects on breathing and the respiratory system, damage to lung tissue, and premature death. Small particles penetrate deeply into sensitive parts of the lungs and can cause or worsen respiratory disease, such as emphysema and bronchitis, and aggravate existing heart disease.

Global Warming

One member of the NOx family, nitrous oxide, is a greenhouse gas. It accumulates in the atmosphere with other greenhouse gases, causing a gradual rise in the earth’s temperature. This will lead to increased risks to human health, a rise in sea level, and other adverse changes to plant and animal habitat.

Visibility Impairment

Nitrate particles and nitrogen dioxide can block the transmission of light, reducing visibility in urban areas, and on a regional scale in our national parks.

To address these problems, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued rules that require large reductions in NOx emissions in 22 eastern states. The states that are required to reduce their emissions are Missouri and all the states east of the Mississippi except for Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Florida. The state implementation plan requirements are focused on reductions from electric power plants and large industrial boilers. The states are required to reduce overall nitrogen oxide emissions starting in May 2003.

The bottom line, Brayman said, is that "The rules apply to a bunch of things. It’s not just great big refineries, but anything that’s burning."

Basically, facilities have no choice but to clean up their act. "The law is in force. It’s going to make them do it," Brayman said.

Multiple Birds With One Stone

So, if you need to reduce emissions to comply with new rules and regulations, and you want to increase efficiency and save money along the way, what’s a smart route to take? You may have guessed it. If you need a hint, Brayman stated it succinctly in his SWICA presentation:

"Using insulation reduces energy loss and the equivalent amount of burned fossil fuel," he said. "Therefore, burning less fuel reduces CO2, NOx and CE (greenhouse gas emissions)."

To back up those statements, Brayman provided information from a visit to an industrial facility in the southeastern United States. The plant had a number of uninsulated steam lines, and he focused on one in particular as a test case. Using the 3E Plus® software’s "cost of energy" program, he provided various information about the pipe. Variables include ambient conditions, process temperature, insulation and jacket installation data, and operating information (fossil fuel, heat value and costs).

Brayman determined that the system (see photo on this page) contained a 900 lb. uninsulated (or "naked") steam line with an 8-inch pipe. The process (operating) temperature was 825 degrees F with an average ambient temperature of 65 degrees F. The steam line’s annual fuel cost was $6,455, and it was burning enough fuel to release 222 lbs. of NOx per year.

Brayman knew that the system was capable, with the proper insulation, of operating much more cleanly and efficiently than those statistics would indicate.

"We’re trying to prove that if you don’t burn it, you won’t put it (emissions) out there," he said, adding, "When that line’s uninsulated, it’s wasting energy. When you insulate it you reduce the heat loss."

So, after providing the 3E Plus® program with the requisite information, Brayman put the software back to work to calculate the needed insulation to improve the line’s performance. The program provided information on Btu and dollar savings, CO2, NOx and CE savings and total savings based on using a certain amount of insulation. The information can be printed out in spreadsheet form, with all the relevant numbers easily accessible.

Ultimately, for the 825 degree F steam line, it was determined, in basic terms, that by adding 3 inches of insulation to the pipe, $6,170 in fuel costs would be saved annually, and NOx emissions would be cut by 212 lbs. each year.

And, as Brayman points out, "That’s for only one little section of pipe," indicating that for an entire plant, the savings could be substantial. He adds, with a laugh, "It all accumulates. If you pick up 1,000 pennies, that’s $10. If you find a lot more pennies, it really adds up."

Overcoming Resistance

Despite the proven success of technology such as 3E Plus® and initiatives like the Insulation Energy Appraisal Program, insulation still often seems to get lost in the shuffle when discussing effective savers of energy, money and emissions. Insulation is a bit like a fullback in football who provides the blocks that allow the star halfback to break the long runs. It does the job quietly and efficiently, without much hype.

As one of Brayman’s industry colleagues has said, "We’re not getting on the radar screen (in terms of recognition)." Brayman points out that among the difficulties in selling the value of insulation to plant managers, engineers and the like in past years (prior to 3E Plus® and the IEAP) was that it was more to quantify the impact and effectiveness of proper insulation in a facility. Also, the efforts it took to provide that information could be extremely challenging.

"Before the IEAP, it took a pretty smart engineer to do the calculation," he said. "It was a pretty laborious and time-consuming process. And it can be difficult to equate dollars to Btu."

The IEAP, which debuted in October 2000, is an industry initiative designed to give facility/energy managers a better understanding of the true dollar and performance value of an insulated system. It quantifies the amount of energy and actual dollars a facility is losing with its current in-place insulation system and demonstrates the real world benefits of a more efficient system. The IEAP is also a part of the DOE’s Best Practices Allied Partnership program.

State and federal emission reduction mandates will undoubtedly push facilities to seek cost-effective and fairly simple solutions, and that’s where insulation may get more of an opportunity to grab the spotlight. Brayman said that in his visits to various plants around the country, many officials get a kind of sheepish look on their faces when he tells them how much energy their uninsulated lines are wasting and how much emissions they’re spewing into the sky. That may be one reason most of them wish to remain anonymous.

"When we get involved in reducing greenhouse gases through insulation, people become informed, and even embarrassed, because the numbers were so big," he said. "Sometimes they get chastised by upper management, which says it’s stupid to waste so much energy."

The response to that criticism almost amounts to a "dog ate my homework" defense. "They’ll reply, ‘We didn’t know how much we were wasting,’" Brayman said. That, he added, is all the more reason to document pre- and post- insulation statistics.

"Some people are intimidated by a computer program," Brayman said of some facility managers. "But if you go through the appraisal process and explain things to them, they’ll see where they can save. Onza Hyatt [former NIA president], sold a job based on that philosophy."

And when talking about energy savings and emissions reductions, Brayman again drives the point home with that familiar yet basic statement: "If you don’t burn it, you won’t put it in the atmosphere."

Bill Brayman can be reached toll-free in the United States and Canada at (866) 388-8161.