When progress is made in nearly any segment of technology or industry, there is often a hidden price. This is true of the United States, where becoming more and more industrialized has brought a hefty toll: the impact of industry on the environment. Between the years of 2015 and 2020, it's estimated that about 1/3 of all the energy used in the United States is from industrial use. However, there are many ways that companies can reduce their environmental footprint and still create the machines, products, or buildings that are needed to keep our modern economy running.
What is industrial energy usage?
The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) found that in 2020, manufacturing accounts for the largest amount of energy use, followed by other industries like mining, construction or agriculture. Mining includes using minerals and non-mineral products like stone, gravel, coal, or natural gas. The agricultural sect includes activities like farming, fishing, and forestry, whereas manufacturing is the transformation of substances into products. Manufacturing is the main use of industrial energy. It's important to understand there is a difference between industrial energy use and commercial energy use. Although both are related to businesses, industrial typically refers to producing goods from raw materials. Various industries use energy for all kinds of different things, including process and assembly, steam/cogeneration, heating and cooling, lighting, and air conditioning. In some instances, natural gas liquids and petroleum products are used to manufacture chemicals and plastics.
The EIA also categorizes different industries into 'energy intensive' manufacturing, and 'non-energy intensive'. Here are some of their energy intensive groupings:
- Food: Food and beverage products
- Pulp and paper: Creating paper products or printing
- Chemicals: Manufacturing inorganic chemicals, resins, organic and agricultural chemicals.
- Refining: Petroleum and coal
- Iron and Steel: Iron and steel manufacturing
- Nonferrous metals and non metallic minerals: Copper, zinc, cement, clay, glass, and lime.
What's the history of industrial pollution and energy use?
As the industrial revolution changed the face of societies across the world, the impact of environmental pollution began to take root. At first, there were smaller factories that released small amounts of smoke and pollution, but as the industries began to scale upward, so did the amounts of pollutants being released into the air. One of the big turning points in the fight to protect the environment from harmful contaminants happened in 1948. In the little town of Donora, PA, just before Halloween, the town and it's inhabitants became enveloped in a haze of smog and air pollutants. Twenty people died from inhaling the harmful contaminants that covered the town, until rain cleared the air a few days later. Hundreds had damage to their lungs and hearts due to breathing in the contaminated air. The 1948 disaster was the worst air pollution tragedy in U.S. history, and began to highlight the need for regulations around industrial pollution and the price of industrial processes.
President Truman put together the very first national air pollution conference following this tragedy, in 1950. The Clean Air Act was then passed in 1963, and President Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970. These steps were important in beginning to address the impact of the industrial revolution on the world around us. They also brought awareness to the idea that reducing energy usage can in turn reduce pollution.
How should manufacturing industries reduce their energy consumption?
These days, manufacturing industries are more aware of the way that their actions create a ripple effect in the air we breathe and the wildlife or environment. Still, there is so much work to be done that some companies and industries have a hard time knowing where to start to reduce such large carbon footprints. A 2018 study about reducing energy consumption in the UK has discovered a few important pieces: The first thing they found was that steam systems and heating processes are the largest energy consumers that create the highest levels of carbon emissions. This means it is crucial to recover, reuse, and convert this waste energy in order to reduce carbon emissions and reduce overall energy costs. The second thing they found was that bioenergy and waste utilization was important to reduce grid dependency and create more sustainability. This also reduces pollution related to landfills.
Here are some practical ways to use this information as it relates to energy consumption at your company:
- Perform energy audits: The EPA recommends scheduling periodic 'energy audits', where you can evaluate opportunities for improvement. One of the main areas where energy can be wasted is leaks in industrial machines. Some reports indicate that system leaks can cause as much as a 30% loss of output. Checking for leaks can be done using ultrasonic equipment, and you should check seals, welding, loose hoses or tubes, and worn-out materials.
- Upgrade equipment: One way that you can make rapid improvements to your energy usage and efficiency is by replacing outdated or worn-down equipment. You want to look for machinery that is backed by third-party research and data-backed results, because you want to get a strong return on your investment. Here at Adventech, our patented Maxeff industrial motors are NSF Certified and recipients of the NEMA Premium Mark. This means that our motors meet the guidelines for premium efficient electric motors established by the National Electrical Manufacturers Association. Our customer data sheets also show that switching to a new Maxeff motor or updating your existing framework can be economical and environmentally friendly.
- Improve process heating: Because process heating is one of the big areas of energy consumption, it's an area where the most improvements can be made. Process heating can be divided into two types: fuel-based and electric-based.
- Improving fuel-based process heating: Improvements in this type of system have to do with the transfer of energy from the fuel to the material being treated. It's important to check for excess oxygen in the furnace exhausts, in order to reduce the loss of energy in the heated material. It's also important to maintain clean heat transfer surfaces by using soot blowers to burn off excess carbon and deposits so the proper temperatures can be maintained (creating less wasted heat).
- Improving electric-based process heating: Some electric-based heat processes are categorized as direct or submerged arc furnaces. Direct arc furnaces are used for steelmaking, producing iron for casting, and steel plates. Submerged furnaces are used for creating materials like silicon alloys, ferromanganese, calcium carbide, and ferronickel. The best improvements to these systems can be made by: installing ultra-high-power transformers which reduce energy loss, and by insulating the furnaces to reduce heat loss.
- Recycling waste heat: This means undertaking the task of using waste heat from a process heating system for its use within the same system. The most important aspect of this process is to synchronize the heat supply and demand. One way industries can recycle waste heat is to use gas heat exhaust from a fuel-based system to preheat a combustion system or transfer these products to combustion air pipes. This example reduces the amount of fuel required to establish the necessary temperatures. Recycling of waste heat in these ways can reduce energy usage as much as 25%, which is significant.
Overall, these crucial and timely conclusions about reducing energy usage can save money and contribute to cutting down emissions. Although there are no standard business models for energy efficiency across industries, creating adaptations and innovations can help reduce the demand for energy and offer value to consumers.