Manufacturing News

Strong focus now on energy efficiency

Government initiatives such as the RCC grants program, the EEO program, and the imminent emissions trading scheme are highlighting the need to reduce energy consumption. Hartley Henderson reports.

THE recently released $7m Re-tooling for Climate Change (RCC) program offers small and medium sized manufacturers grants ranging from $10,000 to $500,000 to help them reduce the environmental impact of their production processes, while participation in the Energy Efficiency Opportunities (EEO) program is mandatory for corporations that use more than O.5 petajoules of energy per year.

The EEO program requires these businesses to identify, evaluate and report publicly on cost effective energy saving opportunities.

This kind of push in turn raises the question as to whether there is a trend developing where, rather than maintain or upgrade existing systems, manufacturers may now be looking to invest in more energy efficient and environmentally friendly equipment.

Patrick Crittenden, at GHD Consultants, says that up until recently energy efficiency was a relatively low priority for companies, but many are now realising that a focus on energy consumption can be an important factor in determining returns on investment.

“We are now seeing an increased level of awareness, especially in relation to the impact that the introduction of an emissions trading scheme will have on energy costs across the board. In addition, the introduction of the EEO program has brought energy to front-of-mind for participating companies,” Crittenden told Manufacturers’ Monthly.

“The question as to whether companies will opt to replace machinery or run it to the end of its life has always come down to a cost benefit judgement. With energy prices likely to continue to rise – with the introduction of an emissions trading scheme in 2010 a key contributor – companies need to incorporate the future price of energy into their investment decisions today.

Bottom line benefits

Xstrata Copper is a big energy user that is involved in the EEO program and recently conducted a trial energy assessment over a period of twelve months at its Townsville Copper Refinery.

The company’s GM- refinery, port and logistics, Mark Roberts, says that apart from the mandatory requirement to participate in the EEO program, recognition of the potential benefits for the company’s bottom line is also a big driver to reduce energy use.

“Significant energy savings can result from improvements in the maintenance of existing plant and equipment as well as looking for opportunities to install more energy efficient equipment,” he said.

“A number of cost-effective energy efficiency opportunities were identified in the assessment and an implementation program is underway. Our major area of energy cost is in the provision of electricity for the electrolysis process, which accounts for about 85% of the site’s electricity use.

“Improved energy efficiency in the copper electrolysis process has been achieved by reducing contact resistance between cathodes and busbars through improved cleaning of the contacts, resulting in electricity savings of over $100,000 per year.

“Other savings opportunities identified relate to the re-melt furnace, and conduct of compressed air and steam usage audits. In relation to the re-melt furnace, which operates intermittently, a large pump continuously circulates cooling water.

“By installing a smaller pump with variable speed drive at an initial cost of $20,000, it is believed that energy use can be reduced by up to 50%, resulting in savings of around $15,000 per year and a payback period of just over 12 months. In addition, a significant reduction in maintenance costs is also likely.

“The compressed air audit identified leaks which were repaired at a cost of $5,000, which will result in reduced running costs of some $22,000 per annum and a payback period of just 3.6 months.

“The audit of steam use revealed that steam was leaking from steam traps. Cost of rectifying this will be approximately $120,000, with potential savings of $60,000 per year and a payback period of two years.”

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