Sustainability in Regenerative Thermal Oxidizers

September 7, 2022

How Does a Regenerative Thermal Oxidizer (RTO) Help Increase Sustainability?

Definition of Sustainability

Wikipedia defines sustainability as “a societal goal that broadly aims for humans to safely co-exist on planet Earth over a long time. In everyday usage of the term, sustainability is often focused mainly on the environmental aspects.”

We are familiar with sustainability, and such terms as carbon neutral, green, zero waste, carbon footprint, but unless objectively defined we are left to our own ideas. If we take Wikipedia’s big picture definition and apply it to a manufacturing process, a more specific definition that might be helpful would be: manufacturing that has a net-neutral impact on the environment in which it operates. In simple terminology it might be stated as a goal to “do no harm” to the environment.

How is Environmental Sustainability Calculated

Manufacturers can all agree with the general goal of sustainability, but if they have no objective measure of sustainability, they have no clear path to achieve the desired goal. So, for manufacturers is it possible to find an answer to these big questions: 

  1. Can we actually define sustainability in an objective way?
  2. How do we do the math to determine sustainability?

To help us with the task of answering these questions, let’s look at a very simple example; the human act of breathing in an airtight room.

If someone is closed up in a airtight room, they would eventually consume all of the oxygen in the room. Also, the environment would become carbon dioxide rich as they breath in and out. This person can’t produce oxygen to replace the oxygen they consume. And they can’t consume carbon dioxide. It is a closed system that will eventually reach a point where little oxygen remains, with an increased carbon dioxide concentration. To sustain the environment of the airtight room, the fix would not be to inject oxygen and remove carbon dioxide at a fixed point in time, but to continuously inject oxygen and continuously remove carbon dioxide. In this simple example, sustainability would be confirmed and maintained by measuring and controlling the room environment to match the original baseline environment. If it can be controlled properly, the environment is sustained.

A Regenerative Thermal Oxidizer (RTO) manufactured by Kono Kogs is a sustainability solution
Regenerative Thermal Oxidizer (RTO) – a sustainability solution

This Leads to a Simple Equation for Sustainability:

Human (oxygen consumer; carbon dioxide producer) Outside Actor (oxygen injection; carbon dioxide removal)= 0 net change in environment

How Does a Regenerative Thermal Oxidizer (RTO) Increase Sustainability?

This world is certainly more complicated than the above example. However, from it we can begin to discuss the principle of sustainability as it applies to a manufacturing process. In the manufacturing realm, manufacturers produce goods. These goods are made by utilizing natural resources that need to be “replaced” to maintain sustainability in an environmental sense. That is why paper companies plant and manage forests, ensuring that their supply of the trees required for paper production are sustained. That is one form of environmental sustainability; maintaining the supply of natural resources needed for production.

But another form of environmental sustainability, is the goal that a manufacturer does no “net harm” to the environment during the manufacture of their product.

Manufacture of a product usually results in byproducts. These byproducts could be either scrap material from the manufacturing process, or in our case, air emissions from it. For example, a manufacturing process utilizes industrial ovens to produce their product. The heating and curing that takes place in the oven, in some cases, produces volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are driven off of the product during curing, and then are exhausted from the oven. This exhaust airstream is usually destined for the atmosphere outside the facility, and out into the community, unless treated. That is where our air treatment solutions, such as regenerative thermal oxidizers (RTO) come in.

How RTOs break down VOCs

An RTO is placed between the oven and the atmosphere to destroy the VOC in the air exhausted from the manufacturing process, before the cleaned air is sent out to the atmosphere. The result? Near sustainability. Typically, 99% of VOC emissions are destroyed in an RTO. The air emissions from the manufacturing process cause (nearly) no net-harm to the atmosphere around the facility. An RTO receives a polluted airstream containing VOCs from the manufacturing process and the RTO breaks down the VOCs in the airstream to maintain or “sustain” the quality of the air used in the manufacturing process.

But can sustainability be quantified? Since VOCs in vs. VOCs out can be measured for most manufacturing processes, there is a way to quantify sustainability. With these measurements of VOC exiting the manufacturing process (VOC in), compared to the VOC exiting the RTO (VOC out), a manufacturer utilizing an RTO can prove, by measurement and calculation, the sustainability of their manufacturing process. Environmental consultants and air testing firms have been performing this measurement work for decades. This measurement and calculation is known as an exhaust stack test. This stack test measurement has a twofold benefit. It allows the manufacturer to calculate the sustainability of their manufacturing process’ impact on air quality – comparing VOC in to VOC out- while also proving the on-going performance of the regenerative thermal oxidizer (RTO) operating at their facility.

Sustainability Defined and Verified For Decades Now

So, will this simple discussion of sustainability, and the value of regenerative thermal oxidizers for sustainability, clear the air on sustainability? Not fully. But hopefully it is a little more clear for you. We can be comforted to know that there are objective measurements of environmental sustainability possible for a manufacturing process. And this method of measuring and calculating sustainability has been in place for decades as manufacturers calculate VOCs in and VOCs out with the help of exceptional environmental consultants and air testing firms. Sustainability is a recently popular word, many times used without the anchor of an objective definition, but it doesn’t have to float out there as an undefined, cloudy concept. Sustainability can be calculated, quantified and understood. This means manufacturers have something foundational to guide them in manufacturing their products in an environmentally friendly way; and regulators have an objective measuring tool to confirm the environmental performance of the manufacturing process.

Could You Increase the Sustainability of Your Manufacturing Process?

If you have an emission airstream that is untreated, adding an RTO will increase the sustainability of your manufacturing process. 

Give our expert team a call. Our refurbished regenerative thermal oxidizer systems (RTO) can achieve 98-99+% destruction of VOC emissions. Or, our custom VOC rotary concentrators offer economic treatment of even very dilute concentrations of VOC emissions, with the added benefit of better employee work environments.

For more information on the sustainability benefits of regenerative thermal oxidizers and VOC concentrators, reach out to us at or call 920-432-2699.

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