Want to cut greenhouse gas emissions? Start with cutting energy waste
Cutting greenhouse gas emissions is a growing goal among manufacturers, and independent of the motives, the results can be highly profitable.
December 1, 2021 | By Aaron Woody
One of the easiest and lowest cost approaches to reducing emissions is reducing waste. This is the energy that manufacturers are paying for but aren’t using, either because the system is oversized for the job, or else the system is losing energy through malfunction. Either way, the costs can be huge. A great place to start looking for energy cuts is in air compressors, where about 10 per cent of all power in a production plant is consumed.
Beverage production facilities might have multiple air compressor assets connect through pipes to deliver compressed air to move product, operate pneumatic tools, or pump liquids for a variety of purposes in production chains, packaging, and cleaning.
For example, in the brewery, fermentation, and bottling processes, compressed air increases oxygen levels to complete the bacterial fermentation process. Air compressors reduce residual oxygen during bottling, and bottles are flushed with carbon dioxide and filled with beer using pneumatically powered machinery. Because breweries operate in warm environments, systems are more vulnerable to leaks.
Compressed air is also purified and filtered to ensure safety and to maintain the proper pressure dewpoint needed to prevent microbial growth.
Compressor system leaks
A 100 hp air compressor can consume around $50K in electricity annually, and as much as 30 per cent of that electricity goes toward pressurizing air lines that leak. (Note: Spending $15K to pressurize leaky air lines is not a complete loss since some pressure is making its way to the equipment being run by the compressor, but it might not be enough to run the equipment properly or might impact the quality of the work coming from the equipment).
In a large beverage production facility, a compressor system can stretch hundreds of feet, sweeping in and out through various operational systems. Issues in a compressed air system can occur anywhere along those lines—including the compressor, air dryer, mainline, flanges and valves in the clean-in-place system, the syrup maker, or the CO2 blender, not to mention certain conveyor and pneumatic equipment systems.
How to find invisible squeaky leaks
Finding and fixing compressed air leaks can result in huge energy savings and a serious reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Some beverage production facilities have seen up to 30 per cent less compressed air consumed.
But with compressed air and gas leaks, finding them is half the battle, and is what has historically made the task low on the to-do list for maintenance teams. These leaks create high pitched squeaks at decibel levels beyond the ability for human hearing. In recent developments, the need to hear these leaks has become a thing of the past. Today, these leaks can be visualized from a distance.
Acoustic imaging technology is equipped with an array of ultra-sensitive microphones that allow maintenance teams to quickly, and accurately, locate air and gas leaks within a compressed air system, even in the noisiest of environments. A typical system can be scanned in a day without interrupting production or putting technicians in unnecessary danger.
Where to visualize expensive air and gas leaks
Air and gas leaks can be difficult to identify, especially if you don’t know where to look. Beyond the basic compressor system, these assets are also potential culprits for air, gas, and energy waste. Here are some examples.
Steam System – This steam system has leaks in the steam trap. Steam is expensive to product and these types of systems are not often easily accessible.
Control Air Regulator – This is a control air regulator above a process valve. The housing with the leak is a check valve. The gasket between the two mounting surfaces has failed, proving this device was not venting excess pressure, but simply leaking.
Overhead Roller Bearings – This conveyor system is used to move boxes throughout a facility. Because the conveyor is so high, it is difficult to inspect. The use of an acoustic imager allowed the technician to inspect safely from the ground.
Pressure Regulators – This is a pressure regulator that has corroded badly and is no longer functioning. The regulator was part of equipment that had compressed air, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide. This was not the first pressure regulator to fail in this location. A small carbon dioxide leak nearby was the offender causing the regulators to corrode and fail.
Cut waste, cut GHG emissions
When you identify air and gas leaks in your beverage facilities early (and often—these aren’t one-time occurrences after all), you have jumped the biggest hurdle toward your goals of reducing waste and reducing your greenhouse gas emissions. Next, get the leaks fixed and go back with your acoustic imager to verify the fixes. Like with any kind of goal, you have to keep at it to see the long-term benefits.
Aaron Woody, Senior Product Applications Manager, Fluke Corporation. He has 17 years of experience in the process automation and engineering industry.