Steam Partnership: Improving System Efficiency Through Marketplace Partnerships

Ted Jones

March 1, 1998

The Alliance to Save Energy, a national nonprofit organization based in Washington D.C. and the

U.S. Department of Energy are working with energy-efficiency suppliers to promote the

comprehensive upgrade of industrial steam systems. Like EPA’s Green Lights and DOE’s Motor

Challenge, the Steam Partnership program will encourage industrial energy consumers to retrofit

their steam plants wherever profitable. The Alliance has organized a “Steam Team” of trade

associations, consulting engineering firms, and energy-efficiency companies to help develop this

public-private initiative.


Improving the energy efficiency of industrial steam plants is a significant opportunity for U.S.

industry to improve plant productivity and reduce many of the costs associated with

production. The Alliance to Save Energy estimates that roughly 2.8 quads (2,800 trillion Btu)

of energy could be saved through cost-effective energy-efficiency improvements in industrial

steam systems. The energy savings, worth approximately $6.3 billion (1995 dollars), could

be invested in new processes and equipment to improve productivity.

Unfortunately, several factors interfere with the efficient production of steam. First, many

boiler operators are not aware of steam-system efficiency opportunities and have not been

properly trained to look for them. Second, industrial plant managers often fail to recognize

the importance of the boiler house or appreciate steam’s role in the production process. When

this happens, boiler operators and maintenance staff soon get the message: “….efficient

operation of the steam system is not a priority.”

Finally, operators and managers are rarely aware of steam costs. Too often steam and other

utilities (e.g., compressed air and chilled water) are separated from the other factors of

production — both physically and in the financial accounting system. As a result, steam costs

are not assigned to individual processes or production lines. Instead, they are treated as a fixed

cost and assumed to be uncontrollable.

Energy-efficient steam systems, like efficient motor and lighting systems, can generate

significant savings through reduced fuel consumption. Improving energy efficiency is one of

the best and least capital-intensive ways of conserving energy and reducing the amount of

pollution that goes up the stack. The Alliance to Save Energy has found no lack of

information on specific steam technologies, however, there is little information on steam

system efficiency. The Alliance, the Department of Energy, and the energy-efficiency industry

are working to correct this situation through a public-private initiative focusing on steam-

system efficiency.

Why Steam Is Important

U.S. industry uses a lot of steam. In 1995, U.S. manufacturers consumed roughly 16.55

quadrillion Btu (quads) of energy for heat, power, and electricity generation. According

to the Council of Industrial Boiler Owners, approximately two thirds of all the fuel burned

by these companies is consumed to raise steam, representing approximately 9.34

quadrillion Btu of the 1995 energy total.

The U.S. manufacturing economy depends on over 54,000 large boilers to produce steam

for process use, to drive mechanical equipment (e.g., pumps and fans), and to generate

electricity. It costs U.S. industry approximately $21 billion (1995 dollars) a year to feed

these boilers.

After the fuels are burned, emissions are released into the atmosphere that cause air

pollution and global warming. Each year U.S. industry releases approximately 196 million

metric tons of carbon dioxide while producing steam. These emissions represent over 40 percent of all U.S.

industrial emissions of carbon dioxide and over 13 percent of total U.S. emissions.

Total demand for steam is projected to increase 20 percent in five major industries by 2015 (compared to 1990 levels), with demand in food processing and

chemicals being even greater. Industrial requirements for steam are increasing most rapidly in the “other” category, which includes rubber, plastics,

industrial machinery, and transportation equipment (See Figure 1).

The seven industries represented in DOE-Office of Industrial Technology’s Industries of the Future Program are among the most energy and waste intensive

in U.S. industry. These seven industries are aluminum, metal casing, glass, steel, petroluem refining, chemicals, and forest products. When OIT examined

the importance of steam in these industries, they found that on a weighted average basis, approximately 45 percent of their total energy consumption was

used to raise steam.

The proportion of total energy used for steam was especially high in forest products,

chemicals, petroleum refining, and steel (See Figure 2). There is a high degree of overlap

between DOE’s seven industries and the most steam-intensive industries, which include

chemicals, pulp and paper, food and kindred products, and petroleum refining.

Steam Energy Efficiency Potential

Because steam distribution losses can have a significant impact on boiler operations, the

efficiencies of boilers and their distribution systems are closely interrelated. For this

reason, we have defined the energy-efficiency potential for industrial steam systems as the

total of all the cost-effective efficiency opportunities in steam generation and distribution,

as well as in steam-system operation and maintenance. The Alliance estimates that a total

steam-system efficiency potential of 30 to 40 percent is available to industry.

There is a significant range of operating efficiencies for boilers, depending on the type of

fuel, the use of heat recovery equipment, and the operating load. Assuming boilers are in

good repair and properly maintained, the average efficiency of boilers ranges from 76 to 81

percent on natural gas, 78 to 84 percent on oil, and 81 to 85 percent on coal. These

efficiency levels can be improved by 2 to 5 percent, on average, with boiler tune-ups and

auxiliary equipment where economically justified.

Unfortunately, many boilers are not properly operated and maintained. Without proper

operation and maintenance practices, fuel-handling equipment can get worn, burners and

controls can get out of adjustment, boiler water and flue gases are not properly treated, and

hot condensate is not recovered. As a result of these conditions, steam-system efficiency

can be significantly reduced. As a rule of thumb, if a boiler has not been maintained for

two years, a 20- to 30- percent gain of efficiency is immediately possible through


Taking care of the steam-distribution system is often considered to be part of good steam-

system maintenance. In terms of efficiency, the two do overlap; however, individual

steam-distribution energy savings can be substantial and merit separate treatment. Steam

leaks, steam traps, and insulation are a few of the most rewarding energy-efficiency

opportunities. On average they can improve a steam-system’s energy efficiency from 10 to

15 percent. There are many examples in industry of even greater energy savings with these


Based on the examples above, a total steam-efficiency potential of 30 to 40 percent

appears reasonable when using a systems approach. If all U.S. manufacturers improved the

efficiency of their steam systems by 30 percent, they would save approximately 2.8

quadrillion Btu of steam energy — enough to supply the total energy needs of Michigan for

a year, generate dollar savings of $6.3 billion (1995 dollars), and reduce emissions by 60

million metric tons of carbon dioxide and 30 thousand metric tons of nitrous oxide.

Steam-system efficiency is a global opportunity as well, representing an energy savings

potential that is five times greater than in the United States alone. Developing countries

dedicate a large portion of their scarce energy resources to generate steam. Many of these

countries are facing high growth rates, and it is uncertain where the energy will come from

to meet future demand. If the steam-efficiency technologies described here were more

widely adopted internationally, energy demand could be reduced by at least 14 quads and

carbon dioxide emissions could be reduced by over 250 million metric tons.

Industrial Steam Technologies

Industrial steam systems contain many cost-effective efficiency opportunities. Each

opportunity, by itself, may appear small, improving energy efficiency only a few

percentage points. However, the energy savings can add up quickly. Common examples

of steam-system efficiency opportunities are discussed below.

Opportunities in Steam Generation

Boilers. Boiler efficiency is the percentage of the fuel’s energy which is converted to

steam energy. Reducing waste-heat energy losses going “up the chimney” is probably the

greatest opportunity to improve steam-generation efficiency. Incomplete combustion and

heat loss from exterior boiler surfaces can also cause significant losses. Together, these

losses can reach 30 percent of the fuel input. The three basic strategies for minimizing

stack gas heat loss are the following:

  1. minimizing excess air in combustion
  2. keeping heat transfer surfaces clean
  3. adding flue gas heat recovery equipment where justified

Boiler losses can be reduced with combustion controls and waste heat recovery equipment

such as combustion air preheaters and economizers. The economics can be very attractive

with boiler efficiency increasing 1.0 percent for each 15 percent reduction in excess air,

1.3 percent reduction in oxygen, or 40oF reduction of stack gas temperature.

Emissions Monitoring. Using emissions monitoring equipment not only helps plant

operators track emissions, it can also lower plant energy bills. Researchers from North

Carolina State University evaluated the performance of continuous emissions monitoring

systems on industrial-boiler efficiency. The monitoring systems reduced excess air by 30

percent (under low fire conditions) and 15 percent (under high fire conditions). These

adjustments are projected to reduce stack loss by 1.4 percent. The resulting energy savings

were enough to achieve a simple payback of 2.5 years.

Opportunities in Maintenance and Operation

There are many opportunities to improve the efficiency of both boilers and the steam-

distribution system through improved maintenance and operation. A few examples are

discussed below.

Water Treatment. Water treatment is an important aspect of boiler operation which can

affect efficiency or result in plant damage if neglected. For instance, without proper water

treatment, scale can form on boiler tubes, reducing heat transfer and causing a loss of

boiler efficiency of as much as 10 to 12 percent.

Condensate Return. Recovering hot condensate for reuse as boiler feed water is another

important way to improve efficiency of the system. The energy used to heat cold makeup

water is a major part of the heat delivered for use by the steam system, requiring an

additional 15 to 18 percent of boiler energy for each pound of cold makeup water.

Controls. There have been great advances in boiler control technology as older pneumatic

and analog electronic control systems have given way to digital, computer-based

distributed control systems. These systems are more reliable and can extend boiler life.

Modern, multiple burner control, coupled with air trim control can result in fuel savings of

3 to 5 percent. For example, a boiler economic load allocation system optimizes the

loading of multiple boilers providing steam to a common header so as to obtain the lowest

cost per unit of steam. Honeywell Inc.’s Industrial Automation and Control Division

commonly recommends this technology to help customers reduce boiler fuel consumption

by 1 to 3 percent and improve performance.

Steam Distribution

The steam-distribution system is often the most neglected part of the industrial steam

system; yet, steam-distribution improvements are relatively inexpensive and easy to install.

Total steam-distribution losses are often considerably greater than the losses associated

with the boiler. Whereas a well-maintained boiler can be improved 5 percent, the

efficiency of steam distribution can often be improved by 10 to 15 percent (sometimes

more). Below are a few examples of steam-efficiency opportunities in the distribution


Steam Leaks. A neglected steam-distribution system can be very costly. In such systems,

leaks will be found in the piping, valves, process equipment, steam traps, flanges, or other

connections. Fixing steam leaks is a simple, no cost/low cost opportunity to save energy

and money. Steam systems can realize a 3 to 5 percent efficiency improvement when

steam leaks are actively identified and repaired.

Steam Traps. Saving energy through a steam-trap maintenance program can seem “too

good to be true,” yet, the savings are often dramatic. In the absence of a maintenance

program, it is common to find 15 to 20 percent of a plant’s steam traps to be

malfunctioning. Energy efficiency gains of 10 to 15 percent are common when steam traps

are actively maintained.

Armstrong International estimates that, on average, each defective trap wastes over

400,000 pounds of steam a year, worth over $2,000. These savings can add up quickly,

especially for plants with many traps. For instance, a typical petrochemical plant will have

over 5,000 steam traps, and can save hundreds of thousands of dollars in single year.

Savings are also significant for medium-sized plants that often have a couple thousand

traps, and even small plants commonly have several hundred.

Insulation. A recent analysis estimated the economic conservation potential of thermal-

insulation related efficiency to be 5 percent or less of total industrial energy use. However,

plants audited under DOE’s Industrial Assessment Center program demonstrated a savings

potential ranging from 3 percent to as high as 13 percent of total natural gas usage on

average. When a Georgia-Pacific plywood plant in Madison, Ga., upgraded the

insulation on the steam lines to its dryers, the plant was able to

  • cut steam usage by approximately 6,000 pounds/hour
  • eliminate the use of purchased fuel
  • reduce CO2 emissions by 6 percent
  • achieve a 6-month payback on investment

Although information about specific steam technologies is readily available, there is little

public information that addresses the benefits of approaching steam plants as a system.

That is why a program is needed

  1. to promote greater awareness of the energy and environmental benefits of steam-system

    efficiency technologies

  2. to provide steam-plant operators with the tools and technical assistance they need to

    improve the efficiency of their steam plants.

Steam Partnership Program

The Alliance to Save Energy and the Department of Energy’s Office of Industrial

Technologies are developing a public-private partnership to address the efficiency needs of

industrial steam systems. Leading providers of energy-efficient steam products and

services are working with DOE and the Alliance to develop the program. As envisioned,

the program will have three basic components:

Steam Challenge

This program component would consist of a voluntary energy-efficiency program targeted

to the needs of industrial steam “systems.” Rather than promoting the energy savings of

any single steam-efficiency technology, this program will take a comprehensive approach

to promote greater awareness of energy efficiency and pollution prevention opportunities

throughout the steam system — from the burner to the boiler, to distribution, to the process,

and back to the boiler.

Modeled after DOE’s successful Motor Challenge Program, the Steam Partnership program

will invite industrial companies to take advantage of the program’s technical resources on

steam efficiency (see below). In addition, industrial companies will be encouraged to

make voluntary commitments to improve their steam plant’s efficiency wherever


The Alliance is organizing a “Steam Team” of trade associations and companies from each

of the relevant steam-efficiency industries to support the steam-efficiency program.

Today, the Steam Team includes the North American Insulation Manufacturers

Association (NAIMA), the American Gas Association (AGA), the Council of Industrial

Boiler Owners (CIBO), Armstrong International, and Honeywell Inc. It is anticipated that

additional manufacturers (and associations) of other steam-related technologies, such as

boilers, water treatment, burners, heat exchangers, diagnostic analysis equipment, pumps,

and service providers, such as energy service companies and consulting engineering firms,

will be asked to participate. The Steam Team participants will develop a plan and

undertake activities to help promote the steam-system efficiency concept.

In addition, the Steam Team will develop educational tools and materials to help promote

energy-efficient steam systems, drawing from both existing information and newly

developed materials. The goal is to centralize steam-efficiency information that is

objective, technically competent, and easy to use. The Steam Team is considering a variety

of information tools and activities:

  • Developing a clearinghouse of existing information on individual steam technologies
  • Integrating existing information to promote efficient steam systems
  • Coordinating the use of training and educational materials for steam workshops
  • Developing Steam Efficiency Software Tools
  • Developing Steam System Auditing Procedures
  • Developing a Steam Efficiency Technical Assistance Hotline/Webpage
  • Providing a directory of Steam Technology Suppliers and Service Providers
  • Producing publications highlighting the potential savings in steam systems
  • Certifying Steam System Efficiency Surveyors (using the Internet)
  • Providing demonstrations of energy efficient steam technologies and practices

The Alliance plans to involve many organizations servicing the energy needs of industry to

help deliver the “steam efficiency” message. These organizations include the Association

of Energy Engineers, DOE’s Industrial Assessment Centers, state and local manufacturing

assistance centers, state energy offices, electric and gas utilities and industry trade

associations. Another major deliverer of the Steam Partnership Program would be the

marketing and sales staff of the energy-efficient product manufacturers participating in the


Centralizing public and private information on steam efficiency and developing tools to

match the needs of industrial end-users are important objectives of the Steam Partnership

program. Using both public and private resources, the partnership will be able to generate

greater awareness of steam efficiency and its economic, energy, and environmental



On January 16, 1997, the Alliance to Save Energy and the Department of Energy’s Office

of Industrial Technologies met with representatives from ten key organizations to discuss

how the steam partnership program should be structured. The meeting participants

strongly supported the steam initiative and made the following recommendations:

Identify Industry’s Greatest Steam Information Needs

The Steam Partnership should determine what types of steam-efficiency information and

services would be most useful to plant operators and most likely to garner the support of

industrial decision makers. Over the next six months, the Alliance and DOE should work

closely with industrial steam users through focus groups and roundtable meetings to obtain

this information and draft a product development plan based on the results.

Centralize Steam Information

Many of the meeting participants have access to excellent steam information, such as case

studies, product descriptions, bibliographies, fact sheets, diagnostic software, product and

service provider lists, and educational and training materials. The Steam Partnership

should help make these resources available to a wider audience by developing a steam-

efficiency information kit and a dedicated steam-efficiency webpage.

Develop a Steam-Efficiency Diagnostic Tool

Several software tools are now available for individual steam technologies, such as steam

traps, insulation, and boiler controls. The Partnership should investigate linking these

software tools together and incorporating other steam “modules” (i.e., water treatment,

boiler tune-up, and common steam applications) in order to estimate comprehensive steam-

efficiency potential. By incorporating historical data, this steam software tool could also

be used to benchmark a particular steam system’s relative performance vis-…-vis an

industry average or best practice.

Raise the Visibility of Utility Cost

In terms of cost, it is important for the Steam Partnership to raise the visibility of supplying

utilities to the plant. Plant managers sometimes treat energy (which ranges from 3 to 13

percent of production costs) as a fixed cost, when in fact it is a variable cost that is very

much within their control.

Consider Non-Energy Benefits of Efficiency

In addition to energy cost savings, the Steam Partnership should highlight non-energy

benefits, or “co-benefits.” These benefits include the environmental benefits, worker safety

and health, and productivity improvements associated with steam efficiency. Public

recognition that comes from participating in a public-private program may also prove

compelling to industrial decision makers.

Conference Sessions on Steam Efficiency

To further promote the “systems” approach to steam efficiency, the Steam Partnership will

lead sessions at the Industrial Energy Technology Conference in Houston, Texas, on April

23-24, 1998.


U.S. Department of Energy

The Office of Industrial Technologies (OIT) is part of the Department of Energy’s Office of

Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. OIT creates partnerships among industry, trade

groups, government agencies, and other organizations to research, develop, and deliver

advanced energy efficiency, renewable energy, and pollution prevention technologies for

industrial customers. By using technology to save energy and cut waste, companies can

lower costs, boost productivity, and help prevent pollution.

It is anticipated that DOE will play a facilitating role in the Steam Partnership program by

contributing staff and resources to develop and distribute tools and information products.

DOE is interested in developing a centralized delivery system of steam-efficiency

information, incorporating the best resources from both the private sector and public


A program focusing on steam efficiency represents a continuation of 20 years of OIT steam

experience, including work with very low emission burners for boilers, industrial heat

pumps, process integration using pinch technology, and high-performance steam.

The Alliance to Save Energy

The Alliance to Save Energy is a national, non-profit research, education, and advocacy

organization located in Washington, D.C. Over the last 20 years, the Alliance has

developed a unique relationship with the U.S. energy-efficiency industry. The Alliance

works closely with the providers of energy-savings products and services to promote

greater investment in energy efficiency in order to achieve national environmental,

economic, and affordable housing goals.

The Alliance has started to alert energy-efficiency companies and other organizations that

serve the industrial sector about the Steam Partnership and has encouraged their

participation. Many have expressed interest and are working with the Alliance and DOE

to develop the program.

Many of the steam-efficiency equipment companies are interested in making steam-

efficiency resources available to their customers in the United States and internationally.

The Alliance is currently exploring how the steam partnership program could assist U.S.

efforts to expand the export of energy-efficient technologies. The Alliance’s experience

overseas indicates that upgrading industrial steam systems internationally is a great export

opportunity for U.S. energy-efficiency companies.


As mentioned previously, good information exists on individual steam technologies, but

there is little to be found on steam systems efficiency. The Alliance has collected some

preliminary information on steam efficiency. Below is a brief overview of information

resources that are currently available.

American Gas Association — a variety of publications relating to natural gas technologies,

industrial energy use trends, equipment profiles, and AGA’s Commercial and Industrial

Marketing Committee.

Industrial Gas Technology Commercialization Center — a variety of publications relating

to new natural gas technologies in the industrial sector.

Council of Industrial Boiler Owners — a wide variety of publications on environmental

emissions, cogeneration, boiler technologies, and alternative fuels. Currently drafting an

energy-efficiency handbook for power plant operators. CIBO has over 65 members

representing 19 major industries.

Honeywell Inc. — A Journal on Industrial Automation and Control, Honeywell’s Industrial

Energy Notes, case studies, and boiler diagnostic software.

DOE-OIT — Information on low emission burners for boilers, industrial heat pumps,

process integration using pinch technology, and high-performance steam.

Armstrong International — Three worldwide factory seminar facilities, 13 North American

sales representative facilities, four international sales representative facilities, eight co-

sponsored facilities, two mobile seminar vans, extensive library of videotapes, Armstrong

Preventive Maintenance software, CD-Rom, Trap Magazine, and database of steam-trap



The Steam Partnership is a unique opportunity to increase industry’s awareness of energy

efficiency, achieve major energy and cost savings, and improve productivity. Creating a

working partnership between the U.S. Department of Energy and the wide range of

companies servicing industrial steam systems is critical to the program’s success. The

three program components (Steam Challenge, Steam Team, and Steam Partners) represent

the core activities of the Steam Partnership program. While the program’s initial focus is

the U.S. industrial sector, there is interest in expanding the program to include other steam-

intensive sectors, such as schools, hospitals, municipal district heating systems, the Federal

government, and the international community.