Green Solutions: Water Treatment An All-Around Performer

By Anne Cosgrove
Published in the June 2005 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

As plant engineering manager at International Truck and Engine Corporation in Melrose Park, IL, Michael Church needed to keep energy costs down in the face of an increase in demand. Incorporating dealkalyzer beds into the boiler system saved more than one million gallons of water in the first year and provided a few other benefits.

How many years have you been in the facility management profession?
I have been in facility management for 12 years. I interned with International while in college and then came to work for the company after college. I went to work for another company for several years and returned to International eight years ago. When the dealkalyzer project was installed I was the plant engineering manager here.

When (and how) did you become interested in environmental issues?
I became involved about five years ago when I took over the powerhouse operations here at Melrose Park. That entailed overseeing the operation of the boilers, the power generation system, air compressors, and HVAC. It really opened up my eyes to the amount of natural resources we use and the cost impact on the bottom line.

Around the same time, our corporate environmental group initiated an annual program for all the International facilities to compete for energy and environmental awards. Meanwhile, corporate wanted aggressive goals from each facility and requested plans on how we were going to achieve those goals. Since my department was one of the biggest consumers of natural resources in the plant, I needed to figure out how to reduce the impact.

How does this project put forth the ideals of the green philosophy your company would like to convey?
It fits in because it makes not just the Melrose Park facility, but all International facilities, think outside the box. There are only so many items you can pick at each facility that can have a huge impact. We rely heavily on our suppliers to help us come up with solutions, and with this particular project, it was our supplier working with us and suggesting different ideas.

Our philosophy is not just to have a one time impact but something that’s going to help the facility year after year. This particular project with the dealkalyzers did exactly that.

Why was the decision made to pursue this goal?
This project was implemented approximately two years ago when International was on the verge of launching a new engine product. This facility also contains the research and development center for the entire company. We were going to be increasing the R&D operations (which use a lot of steam for testing the engines) and we would see a large impact in our boiler room. With the increase in the steam load, we needed to look at opportunities to reduce the cost in the boiler room-be it through water, natural gas, or chemical usage. We wanted to find a way to run it more efficiently.

Three boilers are used to generate steam for the facility. About 90% of the steam production is used for heating, and 10% is used for manufacturing processes. When the steam is generated, impurities in the water become more concentrated in the boiler, causing a marked reduction in boiler efficiency. We use chemicals to mitigate this problem.

When the impurities reach an unacceptable concentration, a “blowdown” process is used, which flushes the impurities that collect at the bottom of the boiler out to the city sewer. Next, makeup water is added to replace the quantity that is lost. This results in wasted water, natural gas, and chemicals to reheat the makeup water. Additionally, the heated wastewater from the blowdown process must be mixed with more city water to reduce the temperature before it can enter the city sewer system.

We already had a contract in place with what is now GE’s Water & Process Technologies (W&PT) division, and representatives there determined that significant reductions in water usage and energy consumption could be achieved by purifying the makeup water that enters the boilers in the first place. This makeup water comes from the city water system and passes through a softening process here.

W&PT proposed dealkalyzer beds as the most cost effective solution for purifying the incoming water. This equipment purifies by reducing the alkalinity of the water that enters the boilers. As a result, there are less impurities building up in the boiler and less frequent need to perform the blowdown process.

Two dealkalyzer beds were installed to feed the three boilers. This is a self contained, twin tower system that regenerates itself. As the resin bed in one dealkalyzer gets dirty, the system reverts to the alternate bed while it regenerates the dirty one. Using soft water, it backflushes the bed and gets out all the debris while the other tower functions.

What was the reaction of upper management to the decision to embrace sustainable principles in this project?
International really embraces the environment and considering energy issues to reduce its bottom line costs. When you go after funding for projects that have a direct impact and are sustainable year after year, it’s basically a no-brainer.

This contract with W&PT was tied to a guaranteed cost savings. At International, we call these CIP (cost improvement projects) for which the vendor needs to guarantee us they will save a portion of the annual cost of the contract each year.

Based on that, W&PT needed to determine baseline consumption prior the installation so it knew what it was up against. Built into the CIP approval process, the vendor had to show us enough data before and after the installation of any new equipment (in this case, annually) before International would sign off on the project. We also take this a step further with CIPs by determining if the project had an impact that actually increased costs. For instance, in this case, the dealkalyzers resulted in increased salt usage, so that was deducted from the bottom line of our savings.

Also, within our CIP program vendors have the opportunity to surpass the savings they have guaranteed. If they surpass the goal, International gives that supplier a check. We give a portion back.

What were some of the non-economic challenges or highlights of this project?
The largest challenge was in the initial installation. We had to find a window of time when the boilers were down to install the equipment. That was the biggest challenge, because our operation here is 365 days a year, except for Christmas and the 4th of July. It had to be down for a day.

In the end, we didn’t need a full day but about eight hours instead. This was because additional piping and valving was put in place to act as a bypass system while the new equipment was being installed. Once the dealkalyzers were in place, the bypass was switched over and the dealkalyzers were ready for operation.

What was the anticipated ROI for the sustainable aspects of this project?
The results we needed to see were lower chemical, water, and natural gas usage to operate the boilers. All these aspects were tracked after the dealkalyzer beds were in for the CIP to be submitted and compared to the baseline consumption that was determined prior to the installation.

The results from water purification have been dramatic. In the first year of operation, the dealkalyzer beds reduced our water usage by 1.68 million gallons of water. This is because the impurities in the water don’t build up as fast so we perform the blowdown process to flush out the boilers much less frequently. In addition, we saved 11.2 million therms of natural gas in the first year. Also, by reducing the frequency of the blowdown process, fewer chemicals are used.

What has been the reaction to the project inside your organization?
Upper management was very pleased that this project-which did not cost a lot of money to implement-saved a substantial amount of money and resources.

What did you learn from this project?
It showed me that if you can come up with an idea and you have good suppliers helping, you can find an answer to your problem. This one really answered our problem on how to reduce our cost impact from our boilers.

Why should facility professionals seriously consider green solutions whenever the opportunity is present?
Facility managers should consider green solutions because it helps out the bottom line of the company. But green projects are twofold. They can reduce product costs and at the same time help the environment. It’s not just looking at one piece of the puzzle.

How can facility professionals find out more about the economics of sustainable design?
They can look to their vendors and also to some of the government groups.

I’ve been involved in the Compressed Air Challenge from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). This is a group that helps companies focus on how to reduce costs within compressed air systems. Compressed air, per horsepower, is the most expensive utility in the plant. The DOE offers software that can be downloaded from its Web site to do the savings calculations.

What was the most professionally rewarding aspect of this project?
It’s rewarding to me that we did what we said we were going to do. I went to upper management and said, “I need funding to do this project and I’ve committed to saving the company X amount of dollars.” And in the end, we saved that much money plus more year after year.

Questions about this project can be sent to Michael Church.

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