As senior editor of this publication and the Air Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration NEWS, I’m privileged to be able to travel to numerous industry events and conferences throughout the year.

Last month, I attended the American Boiler Manufacturers Association’s (ABMA’s) Manufacturers Conference (MC) in Oak Brook, Illinois, just outside of Chicago. Living relatively nearby, I rented a car and drove rather than jump aboard a plane. And, through a Hertz promotion, I found myself behind the wheel of a Tesla 3.

Yes, I rented an electric car to drive to a boilermaker convention.

Sharing this sentiment at one of the event’s social functions brought forth a few laughs, though a few of the attendees, including ABMA president and CEO, Scott Lynch, were quick to point out that, much like the automobile industry, the boiler sector is transitioning as well.

“The ABMA board is aware of the energy transition that is occurring, and we feel the boiler industry can be a bridge to the world of renewable energy — some of our technology lends itself to that,” Lynch said. “We’re constantly talking about things like biogas and electric boilers, and we continue to find ways to position our industry as energy efficient and sustainable.”

The Emergence of Electric Boilers

At the ABMA MC Conference, Marc DuPuis, vice president of management and inside sales, Vapor Power, led a session titled, “Advanced Energy Sustainability with Boiler Technology,” in which he demonstrated how electric boilers, offered under Vapor Power’s Precision Boiler brand, can be utilized in projects large and small.

Marc DuPuis
FIGURE 2. Marc DuPuis, vice president of management and inside sales, Vapor Power, led a session titled, “Advanced Energy Sustainability with Boiler Technology.”

“More and more renewables are being added into the grid,” he said. “And, I know, there’s always a conversation around site versus source and how electricity is made, though, with renewables, the entire cradle-to-grave lifespan of comfort equipment becomes cleaner and cleaner.”

When used with wind, solar, or hydro power, electrode boilers offer zero emissions. Other benefits include a small footprint, a quick response to call for steam, no site emissions, no carbon taxes, minimal maintenance, and more.

“The mechanical seal on the pump is most likely the largest maintenance concern," said DuPuis. "Other than that, maintenance is fairly simple.”

DuPuis referenced numerous case studies demonstrating how electric boilers are being used in projects around the world.

One such example is Seattle’s Climate Pledge Arena, one of the world’s first net-zero, carbon-certified stadiums. The 18,100-seat, multipurpose facility, home of the NHL’s Seattle Kraken and WNBA’s Seattle Storm, utilizes all-electric dehumidifiers, all-electric boilers, and 100% renewable electricity from both on-site solar panels and off-site renewable energy.

“Even the Zamboni is electrified,” said DuPuis. “The site uses 1.5-MW hot water boilers, electric boilers for a net-zero carbon footprint, and numerous zero-combustion products. You won't find any gas-fired equipment within that entire arena.”

Other examples include the Kansas City Airport, which is powered 100% by wind energy and utilizes individual immersion heating elements in its hot water boiler system to simplify maintenance and reduce downtime, and Microsoft’s headquarters, which is heating its facility through seven PCW hot water boilers at a 660-kW input and 160-psi design.

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

So, while gas boilers are largely recognized as some of the industry’s grandest emitters of CO2, methane, NOx, and CO, a more environmentally friendly solution may exist in electric boilers. Electric boilers can not only match the output of traditional fossil fuel burning units, but they can do so in a cleaner, more climate-friendly manner.

Now, I’m not proclaiming electric boilers are an apples-to-apples match or replacement for existing boilers; however, they do provide an ample alternative. And, it’s refreshing to see an organization such as ABMA take ownership from the top down.

The automobile industry is trending toward an all-electric future, as more and more manufacturers introduce electric or hybrid models of their most popular brands. It seems fair to ask: What does the future hold for the boiler industry?

Lastly, my experience driving an electric car was a ton of fun. Unlike a combustion engine, there’s very little noise, no gears to shift through, no emissions, etc. However, there are cons as well. Charging stations are not readily available, and navigating to one and then charging the battery may add hours to your trip (after three charging stops, it took me nearly eight hours to drive from Detroit to Oak Brook!). And, if you run out of electricity, there’s no “gas can” you can simply fill up and dump in the tank.

All that said, if you haven’t had the opportunity yet, I highly recommend you give an electric vehicle a try. Even if you’re a gear head (or boilermaker) with years of experience working with/driving combustion engines, electric alternatives offer a lot of positives. Need further proof? Slam the accelerator (can't call it a gas pedal anymore) down on a Tesla 3. A zero-to-60 speed of 3.1 seconds quickly turned me into a believer, even if that only meant I was arriving to my next 40-minute charging session a little bit sooner.