How to Increase Chemical Plant Profitability - Part 2 - Energy Efficiency

This is Part 2 of the How to Increase Chemical Plant Profitability series.

Of all the activities an operational chemical engineer has to complete, one of the most rewarding and exciting is the identification, development, and execution of energy efficiency improvement projects.

Personally I find energy efficiency projects one of the most satisfying and rewarding work to complete. It is a win-win for every stakeholder - the business saves money, the environment will thank you, and customers get a cheaper product.

Cooling Tower

Image Source: Redwood1

The reduction of energy consumption, and in turn fuel costs, is directly measurable, and is one of the most popular methods for increasing a chemical plant’s profitability.

1. Change technology

Also due to the age of some chemical plants it is often one of the easiest. Older style sites may be using out-dated technology, with the operational personnel not even realizing the opportunity and potential improvements that exist elsewhere.

Energy costs are often one of the largest costs for any chemical processing plant, particularly older style sites with older technology.

Changing from direct drive pumps to variable speed not only increases the ability to control tank levels/chemical dose rates, they also reduce the power requirements.

2. Increase instrumentation

My favourite quote which I apply to nearly every part of a processing plant is by Peter Drucker:

“What gets measured gets managed”

There are usually many energy streams which have a big impact on the energy balance but are not accurately measured. This means that people are not aware of their importance or even of their presence, depending on the size of the plant.

This could be anything from rain diluting the process liquor, or the rate of scale buildup within heat exchangers.

If the cause of energy losses can be identified and its magnitude measured it is much easier and quicker to persuade key decision makers and obtain the capital funding required.

3. Increase awareness

Large processing plants are usually so focused on production that energy efficiency is not even considered in any decision making. A lot of companies plaster the walls with posters showing the direct costs of having equipment offline to drive the mentality that having equipment offline is expensive and everything should be done to improve availability.

This idea can also be used for energy efficiency improvements - having a heat exchanger unwashed after its due date is a direct cost, and making sure everyone from the operators on the floor to the upper management knows is half of the battle.

If everyone is aware, they will all try to help out. Everyone is trying to improve the plant they are working at, so educating people about what the important things to be working on is extremely important and a powerful tool.

4. Equipment availability and maintenance

Energy efficiency does not just have to be looking at technology or equipment. Often large energy reduction can be made by changing operational practices, or maintenance frequency.

Equipment performance often degrades over time, and improves after maintenance has occured. The amount of time between maintenance is usually based on production requirements, and equipment availability. Considering energy requirements if usually ignored.

By looking at the business case including the energy costs, these ill-timed and poorly executed exercises can be improved.

5. General examples

A few general examples of energy efficiency opportunities are:

  • Improve boiler thermal efficiency
  • Increase piping insulation to reduce heat losses
  • Increase condensate recovery
  • Implement waste gas heat recovery
  • Replace old equipment with new technology
  • Reduce recycling load
  • Increase plant extraction/yield
  • Install extra heat recovery equipment

6. Specific case studies

Some more specific examples of improving energy efficiency can include:

If you have any personal examples of energy efficiency improvement or case studies please leave a comment below.

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