Sustainability investments pay off

Chemical sites go eco-friendly

22 February 2010 18:40  [Source: ICB]

Chemical companies highlight their environmental awareness and cost-saving endeavors

WITH THE push towards sustainability, chemical companies are looking at ways to improve manufacturing efficiency and productivity, establishing plants and processes that are more eco-friendly. While pushing to achieve long-term environmental goals, some firms are even now reaping the benefits of their investments.

Wind Direct

One example is Germany-based specialty chemical company Evonik Industries. The Health and Nutrition Business Unit of Evonik has continually sought to be more environmentally friendly and productive, particularly at its feed additives plant in Blair, Nebraska, US, according to Alan Brewer, vice president, North America of Evonik's Health and Nutrition Business Unit.

For over 10 years, the Blair site has manufactured Biolys, a form of lysine that is used as a feed additive for swine and poultry. In the past decade Evonik's R&D facility in Kunsebeck, Germany, has developed new bacterial strains that serve as catalysts for lysine formation. These strains reduce raw material consumption by more than 30%, allowing for an increase in production at the Blair plant.

"This decrease in raw material consumption reduces our carbon footprint for the production of Biolys," says Brewer. "At the same time, the production output from the plant has been more than doubled with minimal new investments. We challenge ourselves and our processes every day to be more efficient. This means we produce more with the same equipment, optimize fermentation parameters in regard to reducing raw material consumption, reducing wastewater, electricity consumption, and so forth."

The increase in production output at Blair is also driven by a deeper understanding of the processes, according to Marc Gerigk, site manager at Blair.

For instance, the plant implemented a wide range of distributed control system (DCS) technology focused on faster equipment turnaround times, advanced control loops that are more accurate and predictive modeling to reduce response times and avoid drops in performance.

"Also, the facility installed mass spectrometers to measure air quality in all its reactors to reduce compressed air consumption as well as other offline and online analytical technologies to check all raw materials and final product qualities, as well as fermentation performances continuously and precisely," Gerigk says. "All of this helped to improve plant utilization and at the same time reduce consumption of raw materials and natural resources like air and water."

To prioritize, focus, guide and support Evonik's green efforts, the plant employs an "idea generation" system under which all personnel are encouraged submit ideas that might lead to cost savings, an efficiency enhancement or an EHS (environment, health and safety) improvement. These ideas are evaluated by a committee. If the idea can lead to a cost saving or an EHS improvement, then it gets implemented.

"Later on if the idea leads to a financial benefit for the company, a portion is paid to the overall plant personnel as part of the variable bonus system," says Gerigk.

Meanwhile, US-based Dow Chemical's latex carpet backing plant has been fueled with a renewable source of methane for over a year. In June 2008, Dow started using methane to fuel its Dalton, Georgia, plant. The technology exists for piping methane, also called "garbage gas," from a landfill to fuel a manufacturing facility. Methane is plentiful in earthly landfills and in outer space, Dow says.

This technology has been gaining in popularity as businesses and municipalities search for "greener" ways to conduct business and for alternative sources of energy.

Dow's renewable energy source process is based on what it calls its LOMAX Technology. The process uses approximately 240,000MMBtus of methane gas/year, equivalent to the amount of energy required to heat 2,100 homes in the US annually, according to Dow.

Carpet backing manufactured with LOMAX Technology is expected to reduce CO2 emissions by roughly 27m lbs/year (12.2m kg/year), the volume comparable to keeping 2,300 cars off the road each year. If measured by oil consumed, LOMAX Technology will replace more than 200,000 bbls/year.

Dow's target is to replace nearly all fossil fuels required to manufacture latex for carpet backing with methane gas as a fuel source, in return using up methane that would otherwise be emitted into the atmosphere.

This is in line with Dow's 2015 Sustainability Goals. The company established the multifaceted program in 2005 to address worldwide economic, social and environmental concerns.

Another area in which Dow has made a difference is in water management. Back in 2003, its sites reduced their water needs by nearly 20m tonnes (5.28bn gallons, 19.99 bn liters), which saved Dow $15m (€10.9m). The company achieved this through several projects.

One project included the combined efforts of many Dow businesses at its Midland, Michigan, site that reduced water demand by almost 7.56m tonnes/year. The water saved is enough to supply 30,000 households in the US, Dow says.

And at its site in Plaquemine, Louisiana, Dow installed more-efficient tank scrubbers that reduced water needs there by 1,000 gals/minute. Meanwhile in its Guaruja, Brazil, site, tank operations were optimized to reduce water usage by 10%, translating to roughly 2,000 tonnes of water that is saved.

In another area, waste reduction, Dow has had a program in place since 1986, called the WRAP (Waste Reduction Always Pays) Award. Back then it was used to promote reduction, reuse and recycling. Today, the program goes further to include the reprocessing of waste into raw materials, the goal being to allow Dow to capture value while reducing waste.

Worldwide projects under the WRAP Award account for 230,000 tonnes of waste reduction, 13m tonnes of waste water reduction, and 8,000,000MMBtus of energy reduction. The value of all these projects totals roughly $1bn, says Dow.

Using another form of renewable energy, US-based Solutia began operation of the largest on-site wind-generation project in Wales, at its site in Newport, UK, in December 2009.

The two 2.5MW wind turbines are expected to supply up to one-third of the chemical company's energy needs at the Newport site. The power generated by the turbines each year will be equivalent to the average amount of electricity used by 3,000 households there.

The turbines will reduce Solutia's carbon footprint in line with the company's commitment to global sustainability and to the environment. Solutia says it also expects to secure and develop its business and related jobs at the site as the wind-generated power reduces costs.

The output will also make a significant contribution to Wales' onshore wind energy target, which is 800MW by 2020. It will also fulfill the Welsh Assembly Government's desire to become self-sufficient in renewable energy by 2028.

The Solutia project was built by the UK-based wind specialist company Wind Direct, which has also installed two turbines at the Cumbria, UK, site of US-based Eastman Chemical. The turbines currently supply approximately 25% of Eastman's power needs at that site.

From Wind Direct's point of view, the chemical industry's high energy requirements and continuous shift patterns make chemical companies ideal candidates for on-site energy projects such as wind turbines. Wind Direct says its approach involves "zero capital" and "zero risk," which is proving to be a major attraction to companies.

By: Feliza Mirasol
+1 713 525 2653

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

For the latest chemical news, data and analysis that directly impacts your business sign up for a free trial to ICIS news - the breaking online news service for the global chemical industry.

Get the facts and analysis behind the headlines from our market leading weekly magazine: sign up to a free trial to ICIS Chemical Business.

Printer Friendly