Can industry ever be really green? Enter the Green Machine.

As industrial states like Michigan pin their hopes of an economic revival on renewable energy, a lot of people are understandably skeptical that the Rust Belt will ever be green. One innovative Sun Belt company says it can help. ElectraTherm, of Reno, Nevada, makes a product called the Green Machine designed to capture waste heat from manufacturing plants and then recycles it to create electricity.

It’s a concept that has long held appeal: wouldn’t it be nice to make use of all that steam coming out of factory smoke stacks? But like so many nice-sounding renewable technologies, it was never before successfully executed. ElectraTherm, which last year won the Wall Street Journal Technology Innovation award in the energy category, says it is the world’s first commercially viable waste heat generator, and last week, it struck a major deal in the nation’s industrial capital that could lead to broad adoption of its Green Machine.

ProRenewables, a Michigan energy solutions company working to bring more renewable energy to the region, has entered a deal to distribute the Green Machine in seven industrialized states in the Midwest. In case you’re wondering, it is green, and it is an actual machine. One of the investors in the deal said the Green Machine had the potential to change the image of industry:

The things that we’re being criticized for – that we’re industrial, that the Midwest is an industrial mecca – are exactly the characteristics that make the Midwest such a great potential marketplace for us.

Frankly, what we’d like to see in the future is the opportunity for every organization that generates excess heat and waste in Michigan – and hopefully in the Midwest – to be looking seriously at this technology.

One of the reasons ElectraTherm is getting noticed is because of the sheer abundance of waste heat. The Department of Energy estimates that the amount of waste heat emitted in the United States exceeds the current production of all other renewable power sources in the country. If the company is able to demonstrate that it can really capture this waste heat on a large scale, we might never look at smoke stacks the same way again.

A footnote: the Green Machine also works on waste heat generated from solar power. That’s effectively generating a new kind of renewable power from the waste of another renewable power source, and it offers some sense of all the different kinds of power out there waiting to be tapped.