How Sustainable is Suez Environment

Waste water treatment, purification plant for factory

French-based Suez Environment works in the water and waste-management environment, with specific reference to water production, treatment, & pollution disposal, and waste treatment, recycling, incineration and site desensitisation. Its more than 65,000 employees distributed worldwide have participated in flagship projects like Renault’s goal of 95% reclamation of vehicle parts, and Lyonnaise des Eaux’s saving of 12 million cubic meters of water in a single year.

Suez Environment claims to have consistently increased the recovery rate of treated waste, decreased direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions, and made significant inroads into the production of sustainable energy on behalf of its clients. But then surely that’s Suez Environment’s business, and with over 65,000 employees we are entitled to expect this. Given that there have been persistent allegations of privatised water distribution bumping prices up to the detriment of the poor, how effective is Suez Environment at practising what it preaches back home?

GDF Suez is its largest shareholder and includes it under its environmental and societal responsibility umbrella. This makes environmental performance an overarching goal alongside management systems, health and safety, risk and procurement, and ethics. Its environmental ambitions spin out into the following strategies:

  • Understand the interactions between our activities and the environment
  • Open dialogue with stakeholders and foster partnerships with them
  • Set quantitative and qualitative targets at all levels of the organisation
  • Achieve optimum balance between financial and environmental challenges
  • Be proactive; anticipate impacts on the environment and plan for them
  • Increase employee awareness through interactive training and education
  • Be constantly innovative; share successes within the organisation
  • Monitor progress continuously and publish measured results achieved.

These goals direct the Suez Environment management team’s attention towards optimising performance in key areas like greenhouse gases, energy management, renewable energy, biodiversity, responsible water management, pollution prevention and health and safety considerations.

Among numerous other examples, its waste incineration programs convert hazardous and conventional waste into heat used to generate electricity without requiring virgin carbon products. Elsewhere, the same energy warms market-gardening tunnels and work places on winter days.

Suez Environment uses sophisticated energy management software to analyse information that’s transmitted by data logging devices online. ecoVaro provides a similar service in the cloud. ecoVaro adapts to your requirements providing fresh insights to your business.

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How Mid-South Metallurgical cut Energy Use by 22%

Master looks on steelmaking process in furnace

Mid-South in Murfreesboro, Tennessee operates a high-energy plant providing precision heat treatments for high-speed tools – and also metal annealing and straightening services. This was a great business to be in before the energy crisis struck. That was about the same time the 2009 recession arrived. In no time at all the market was down 30%.

Investors had a pile of capital sunk into Mid-South’s three facilities spread across 21,000 square feet (2,000 square meters) of enclosed space. Within them, a number of twenty-five horsepower compressors plus a variety of electric, vacuum and atmospheric furnaces pumped out heat 27/7, 52 weeks a year. After the company called in the U.S. Department of Energy for assistance, several possibilities presented.

Insulate the Barium Chloride Salt Baths

The barium chloride salt baths used in the heat treatment process and operating at 1600°F (870°C) were a natural choice, since they could not be cooled below 1200°F (650°C) when out of use without hardening the barium chloride and clogging up the system. The amount of energy taken to prevent this came down considerably after they covered and insulated them. The recurring annual electricity saving was $53,000.

Manage Electrical Demand & Power

The utility delivers 480 volts of power to the three plants that between them consume between 825- and 875-kilowatt hours depending on the season. Prior to the energy crisis Mid-South Metallurgical regarded this level of consumption as a given. Following on the Department of Energy survey the company replaced the laminar flow burner tips with cyclonic burner ones, and implemented a number of other modifications to enhance thermal efficiency further. The overall natural gas reduction was 20%.

Implement Large Scale Site Lighting Upgrade

The 24/7 nature of the business makes lighting costs a significant factor. Prior to the energy upgrade this came from 44 older-type 400-watt metal halide fixtures. By replacing these with 88 x 8-foot (2.5 meter) fluorescent fittings Mid-South lowered maintenance and operating costs by 52%

The Mid-South Metallurgical Trophy Cabinet

These three improvements cut energy use by 22%, reduced peak electrical demand by 21% and brought total energy costs down 18%. Mid-South continues to monitor energy consumption at each strategic point, as it continues to seek out even greater energy efficiency in conjunction with its people.

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How Bombardier Inc. scored a Bulls Eye

Airplane In The Sky With Plane Trails

When travelling anywhere in the world on land, sea or air, chances are, you will travel courtesy of something made by aerospace and transportation company Bombardier based in Montreal, Canada. In 2009, it set itself the goal of carbon neutrality by 2020. In other words, it hoped to remove as much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as it was putting in.

By 2012, Bombardier concluded it was not going to become carbon neutral by 2020 at its current rate of progress. It discounted purchasing carbon offsets because it believed it would serve its interests better by introducing new energy-saving products to market faster. That way, it would achieve its objectives vicariously through the decisions of its customers. But that was not all that forward-thinking Bombardier did. It also set itself the following inward-facing objectives:

  • Reduce carbon footprint through efficient use of energy and less emissions
  • Involve the Bombardier workforce to raise awareness of behaving responsibly
  • Implement sustainable initiatives to further reduce the company carbon footprint

Specific Examples

At its Wichita site, Bombardier (a) fitted a white roof and insulation reducing summer energy consumption by 40%, (b) added an energy recovery wheel to balance air circulation, and (c) introduced skylights with integrated controllers to lower energy consumption by lighting.

At Mirabel, it enhanced the flue-gas management system by adding a pressure differential damper.

At Belfast, Bombardier (a) optimised HVAC systems to reduce pressure on chilling and air-handling plants, (b) installed solar panels on the roof, and (c) obtained approval for a waste-to-energy plant that will convert 120,000 tonnes of non-recyclable waste material annually.

By the end of 2013, Bombardier had already beaten its immediate targets by:

  • Reducing energy consumption by 11% against 2009
  • Reducing greenhouse gas emission by 23% against 2009
  • Reducing water consumption by 6% against 2012

Future Plans

Bombardier will never stop striving to reach its goal of carbon neutrality by 2020. It has a number of other projects in the pipeline waiting for scarce resources to fund them. During 2014, it continued with energy efficient upgrades at its French, Hungarian, Polish, Swiss, and UK plants.

These include consumption monitoring systems, LEDs for workshop lighting, new heating systems, and outdoor energy-saving tower lighting. The monitoring is important because it helps Bombardier focus effort, and provides measured proof of progress.

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How Armstrong World Industries is going Cradle-to-Cradle

Empty room with plants and blue wall

The Cradle-to-Cradle concept holds that human effort must be biometric, in other words enrich the environment within which it functions as opposed to breaking it down. This means manufacturing must be holistic in the sense that everything is reusable and nothing is destroyed. Armstrong World Industries was the first global mineral ceiling tile manufacturer to achieve Cradle-to-Cradle certification. We decided to take a closer look at how they achieved this.

Armstrong Worldwide Industries has five plants in the UK alone. These produce an annual turnover of €2.7 billion. They have been making ceilings for more than 150 years. Fifteen years ago and way ahead of the curve it started recycling, and has maintained a policy of not charging contractors for waste ever since. Along the way, it developed a product that can be re-used indefinitely.

The Challenge

Going green must also be commercially sustainable. In Armstrong’s case, it faced a rise in landfill tax from £8 per tonne per year to £80 per tonne per year. This turned the financial cost of waste from a nuisance to a threat. It calculated that recycling one tonne of ceiling materials would:

  • Eliminate 456kg of CO2 equivalents by saving 1,390 kWh of electricity
  • Preserve 11 tons of virgin material and save 1,892 gallons of potable water

They hoped to extend their own recycling project by asking demolition and strip-out contractors to join it, so they could reprocess their scrap as new batches of tiles too.

The Achievement

As things stand today, an Armstrong ceiling tile now contains an average of 82% recycled content. Indeed, if they could find more ceilings to recycle this could reach 100%. In the past two years alone, Armstrong Worldwide Industries UK has saved 130,399m² of greenfield from landfill, being the equivalent of 520 skips that would otherwise have cost contractors over £88,000 to dispose of.

The Broader Context

Armstrong Worldwide Industries is a global leader in water management, and is bent on minimising its reliance on fossil for energy. It has implemented online measurement systems that feed data to its corporate environmental, health and safety system. This empowers it to produce reports, track corrective actions and measure progress towards its overall goal of being carbon neutral.

Next time you sit beneath an Armstrong Worldwide Industries panelled ceiling, spare a thought for how much ecoVaro consumption analytics could contribute to your bottom line (and how it would feel to be lighter on carbon too).

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How Alcoa Canned the Cost of Recycling

Alcoa is one of the world’s largest aluminium smelting and casting multinationals, and involves itself in everything from tin cans, to jet engines to single-forged hulls for combat vehicles. Energy costs represent 26% of the company’s total refining costs, while electricity contributes 27% of primary production outlays. Its Barberton Ohio plant shaved 30% off both energy use and energy cost, after a capital outlay of just $21 million, which for it, is a drop in the bucket.

Aluminium smelting is so expensive that some critics describe the product as ‘solid electricity’. In simple terms, the method used is electrolysis whereby current passes through the raw material in order to decompose it into its component chemicals. The cryolite electrolyte heats up to 1,000 degrees C (1,832 degrees F) and converts the aluminium ions into molten metal. This sinks to the bottom of the vat and is collected through a drain. Then they cast it into crude billets plugs, which when cooled can be re-smelted and turned into useful products.

The Alcoa Barberton factory manufactures cast aluminium wheels across approximately 50,000 square feet (4,645 square meters) of plant. It had been sending its scrap to a sister company 800 miles away; who processed it into aluminium billets – before sending them back for Barberton to turn into even more wheels. By building its own recycling plant 60 miles away that was 30% more efficient, the plant halved its energy costs: 50% of this was through process engineering, while the balance came from transportation.

The transport saving followed naturally. The recycling savings came from a state-of-the-art plant that slashed energy costs and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Interestingly enough, processing recycled aluminium uses just 5% of energy needed to process virgin bauxite ore. Finally, aluminium wheels are 45% lighter than steel, resulting in an energy saving for Alcoa Barberton’s customers too.

The changes helped raise employee awareness of the need to innovate in smaller things too, like scheduling production to increase energy efficiency and making sure to gather every ounce of scrap. The strategic change created 30 new positions and helped secure 350 existing jobs.

The direction that Barberton took in terms of scrap metal recycling was as simple as it was effective. The decision process was equally straightforward. First, measure your energy consumption at each part of the process, then define the alternatives, forecast the benefits, confirm and implement. Of course, you also need to be able to visualise what becomes possible when you break with tradition.

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FUJIFILM Cracks the Energy Code

Digital electric meters in a row measuring power use. Electricity consumption concept.

FUJIFILM was in trouble at its Dayton, Tennessee plant in 2008 where it produced a variety of speciality chemicals for industrial use. Compressed-air breakdowns were having knock-on effects. The company decided it was time to measure what was happening and solve the problem. It hoped to improve reliability, cut down maintenance, and eliminate relying on nitrogen for back-up (unless the materials were flammable).

The company tentatively identified three root causes. These were (a) insufficient system knowledge within maintenance, (b) weak spare part supply chain, and (c) generic imbalances including overstated demand and underutilised supply. The maintenance manager asked the U.S. Department of Energy to assist with a comprehensive audit of the compressed air system.

The team began on the demand side by attaching flow meters to each of several compressors for five days. They noticed that – while the equipment was set to deliver 120 psi actual delivery was 75% of this or less. They found that demand was cyclical depending on the production phase. Most importantly, they determined that only one compressor would be necessary once they eliminated the leaks in the system and upgraded short-term storage capacity.

The project team formulated a three-stage plan. Their first step would be to increase storage capacity to accommodate peak demand; the second would be to fix the leaks, and the third to source a larger compressor and associated gear from a sister plant the parent company was phasing out. Viewed overall, this provided four specific goals.

  • Improve reliability with greater redundancy
  • Bring down system maintenance costs
  • Cut down plant energy consumption
  • Eliminate nitrogen as a fall-back resource

They reconfigured the equipment in terms of lowest practical maintenance cost, and moved the redundant compressors to stations where they could easily couple as back-ups. Then they implemented an online leak detection and repair program. Finally, they set the replacement compressor to 98 psi, after they determined this delivered the optimum balance between productivity and operating cost.

Since 2008, FUJIFILM has saved 1.2 million kilowatt hours of energy while virtually eliminating compressor system breakdowns. The single compressor is operating at relatively low pressure with attendant benefits to other equipment. It is worth noting that the key to the door was measuring compressed air flow at various points in the system.

ecoVaro specialises in analysing data like this on any energy type. 

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