Technological innovation in the energy sector: case of the organic Rankine cycle

Date: 31 March 2017

Venue: Universiteit Antwerpen, Promotiezaal Grauwzusters - Lange SInt-Annastraat 7 - 2000 Aantwerpen (route: UAntwerpen, Stadscampus)

Time: 5:00 PM

PhD candidate: Sanne Lemmens

Principal investigator: Prof Aviel Verbruggen

Co-principal investigator: Prof Johan Braet

Short description: PhD defence Sanne Lemmens - Faculty of Applied Economics


The starting point of this work is encompassed in the title: technological innovation in the energy sector. Technological innovation involves changes, small or large, that influence daily habits and the way in which societies are organized. Energy is the cornerstone of today’s societies and key for economic development. This thesis takes a technology-specific perspective to study the interaction between technological innovation and energy sustainability lies. More specifically, the focus lies on the organic Rankine cycle (ORC), a technology with potential to enhance industrial energy efficiency by means of excess heat recovery and to generate electricity from lower grade heat sources than conventionally used (including renewable sources such as biomass, geothermal and solar).

The technology exists – theoretically – since the 19th century, has technically been proven in the 1960s, but gains a lot of interest since the start of the new millennium. The research conducted for this PhD focused on the economic aspects of ORC technology deployment. The scope of the work is small at first, delineating the state-of-the art knowledge about the costs and financial feasibility of ORC technology and practical projects. Because the majority of the cost data collected concerns estimated rather than real costs, the second chapter of the thesis investigates the methods used to estimate these costs. Several methods are applied and critically compared with the costs of a heat recovery ORC project commissioned in Belgium. In the third chapter, the thesis contributes to the scarcely published insights into real ORC system applications.

Both technical and economic data from an ORC project in Belgium are discussed. The chapter evaluates the financial feasibility of the case study at hand, assesses the importance of policy influence on the results and discusses the impact of the various economic parameters on the financial appraisal of the ORC project. The final chapter broadens the scope further to discuss the main theme of the theses: the technological innovation path of ORC technology. Two databases were composed: one containing about 95% of the worldwide commissioned ORC systems, another with more than 100 costs quotes of ORC projects of all types. These databases are used to investigate the rate of and rationale for ORC technology deployment and to estimate and evaluate the impact of economies of scale, i.e. the effect of upscaling on the technology’s costs, and of experience, i.e. the extent to which technology costs change as experience with the technology increases.