Industry Week recently ran an interesting article on How to Produce More for Less that noted that not only is overall manufacturing the largest end user of energy in the United States, but process manufacturers are the top five industrial energy consumers with chemical manufacturing (3.769 Trillion BTUs), petroleum refining (3.086 Trillion BTUs), pulp and paper (2.361 Trillion BTUs), iron and steel (1.455 Trillion BTUs), and food manufacturing (1.116 Trillion BTUs) leading the pack. With energy prices skyrocketing across the board, process manufacturers are feeling the burn more than ever. For example, for every dollar that natural gas increases per mmBTU, Wise Alloys, a producer of aluminum sheet coils, pays an additional $4 Million per year in energy costs.
With power costs soaring, manufacturers now have to explore every avenue they can to cut energy costs. Some are even going beyond the traditional avenues of wind power, solar power, and water power. For example, some food and beverage manufacturers have purchased fuel cells, some of which run on feed-stock, to meet some of their energy needs. Others are implementing energy saving measures by using alternate energy sources (such as solar) during peak periods, streamlining energy needs, and even diverting energy consuming processes to off-peak hours when dynamic rates are lower.
Anheuser-Busch has expanded its beer-to-waste energy program, known as its Bio-Energy Recovery System (BERS), that turns wastewater into fuel. It transports liquid waste to holding tanks where the liquid is treated using anaerobic organisms that eat the material and produce bio-gas, which is then used to fire boilers, that create steam – which is another form of power that can be easily created in any process that produces heat. Not only does the process create energy and lower energy costs, but it also saves the company between 6M and 8M annually in sewer charges since output is reduced and the water that is output is purified.
Another option, which is also being investigated by Anheuser-Busch, is alternative renewable fuels such as wood, spent grain, and landfill gas. And companies that user boilers can often reduce energy needs simply by using water softeners. Wise alloys noticed that the regional water supply to one of its plants had high levels of iron and salt. Simply adding water softeners reduced energy needs by 10%.
Manufacturing industries are ten of the eleven largest energy consumers in the US, with the top 10 industries consuming over 13.566 Quadrillion BTUs of energy annually – a rate unsustainable with current petroleum and gas reserves and current prices. It’s time for a shift – to renewable energy sources and more efficient processes that reuse waste – and waste energy.