Energy and Efficiency: A Green Future for Chemicals

Manufacturers agree that improving energy efficiency is the best way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But for such a hugely energy intensive sector, boosting efficiency could also create very beneficial consequences for the company bottom line. Muriel Axford reports.

With significant energy savings in mind, the International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA) contends that policies should focus on major (rather than marginal) efficiency improvement opportunities, support research and development and provide incentives for consumer and industry adoption of new energy and resource efficiency measures.

But with energy costs rising, the case for cutting emissions is not only an environmental but an economic issue as well. So while discussions continue about how best to implement policies that serve the push toward greater energy efficiency, industry also has it sights set on reducing costs. Fundamental to this drive is the use of energy efficient machinery and equipment.

Reducing energy consumption

As an energy intensive sector, the chemical industry has made great strides in reducing its energy consumption. According the UK chemical industry body the Chemical Industries Association the UK chemical industry's energy efficiency has improved by 35% in the past 20 years and GHG emissions have been reduced by 70% over the same period.

The areas where savings have been made are many and it has long been recognised that the equipment used within a production plant, compressors, pumps and refrigeration systems etc can play a significant role in improving energy efficiency.

"Fundamental to this drive is the use of energy efficient machinery and equipment."

During 2010 Eastman Chemical Company was recognised through an American Chemistry Council energy efficiency award for its strategy to increase the hydroquinone yield and energy efficiency of its plant located in Kingsport Tennessee, US. The company managed to run the plant ay maximum production rates, building inventory, then taking extended shut downs to control inventory to acceptable levels and lower overall energy use. The result was a saving of almost 106,000 MMBtus for a 16% annual energy saving compared with 2008.

Eastman also replaced sieve trays in three large distillation columns with high-efficiency distillation trays that improved the hydraulic profile and separation efficiency. Additionally, distillation modelling identified a more efficient way to operate and control the columns once the high-efficiency trays were installed.

The result was lower reflux rates, improved control, significantly improved energy efficiency and a reduction in green house gas emissions of 23,000t. Further savings were realised with the installation of a new type of orifice trap in the base heater of a distillation column. The new trap does not allow steam to escape. This change resulted in a 10% reduction in steam used. Eastman says that its various energy efficiency projects combined saved enough energy to power 14,000 homes and eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from more than 8,000 cars.

Ray Ratheal, director energy and climate change policy at Eastman Chemical Company said "Due to the economic climate of 2009, Eastman's efficiency efforts shifted to reducing energy costs without capital investments. The winning projects are innovative examples of achieving energy efficiency through creative redesign, exploration and trials with new types of equipment and operational changes."

The pace of sustainable innovation

During April 2010 Ingersoll Rand announced that it had established a  Centre for Energy Efficiency and Sustainability (CEES). Ingersoll Rand is a US-based global diversified industrial manufacturer producing equipment including compressors, air dryers and filters for heavy industrial applications.

The company said that the aim of the CEES was to "increase the pace of environmentally sustainable innovation, and create a roadmap for businesses and organisations worldwide to incorporate energy efficiency and environmentally focussed processes into their daily operations." Such is the need to push innovation in the area that the final quarter of 2010 saw Ingersoll Rand create a 12 member advisory council on sustainability which operates through the CEES.

John Conover, president of the Security Technologies sector of Ingersoll Rand and Chair the advisory council said "Ingersoll Rand is committed to incorporating sustainable business practices and developing the next generation of systems and services to help our customers meet their energy efficiency and sustainability goals. The advisory council will be instrumental in helping us shine a light on our own operations and provide expertise and strategic direction in our innovation pipeline."

Manufacturers are recognising the importance of informing and working with customers to help improve the performance of their operations.

During April 2010 Wilo UK, part of the Germany-based manufacturer of pumps and pumping systems, encouraged the largest users of electricity in the UK to look carefully at the energy savings that could be made by switching the large number of pumps in their buildings and premises to Wilo's high efficiency variable speed pumps, which use up to 90% less energy.

"During April 2010 Ingersoll Rand announced that it had established a Centre for Energy Efficiency and Sustainability."

Wilo was responding to the UK government's Carbon Reduction Commitment Scheme which required the country's largest 5,000 users of electricity to sign up to the cap and trade scheme, which aims to reduce the UK's carbon emissions by one third by 2050.

As well as saving energy, Wilo also has a focus on water management amidst the increasing demand for water treatment systems. The company says that with fresh and pure water dwindling, the extraction and planning for water provision is increasingly important. To this end Wilo says that pumps and components are necessary that are capable of a combination of optimum extraction, efficiency and long-term reliability.

As well as providing a range of pumps to aid water management from municipal through to industrial, the company maintains a strong focus on innovation and technological development of its products.

As the tension between increasing industrialisation and environmental protection grows, it is clear that equipment manufacturers will have an increasingly important role to play in helping companies balance their growth along with conserving dwindling resources.