Sustaining Our Environment with Maintenance
By James Reyes-Picknell
July 8, 2021
By James Reyes-Picknell
Maintainers often forget about their role in sustaining our environment, but they are key to achieving good environmental performance. The design of industrial facilities and equipment often dictates the levels of emissions we should expect to produce, and the quantity of energy needed to run them.
If we assume that the design of our facilities produces what are deemed tolerable levels of emissions and energy consumption, then maintainers and operators have a role to play in sustaining those levels. We cannot improve on those design levels without changing designs, but we can ensure that the existing design behaves as intended.
Industrial processes convert energy (fuel, electric power) to create and transport products, using various raw materials (some of which are harmful), and often generating some form of waste stream (exhaust, tailings).
The environmental impacts by industry, come in three forms:
- Failed to contain (e.g.: tailings dam failures at mine sites, storage tank ruptures, pipeline leaks),
- Failed to control (often limit) emissions and effluent streams (high levels of NOx from combustion processes, releases of refrigerants, CO2, and other gases to atmosphere); and,
- Consumed too much (energy, power), likely a result of running at inefficient operating points or with equipment that is compromised and therefore inefficient at energy conversion (dirty electric motors that are running too hot).
Maintenance programs should help us to:
- Contain raw, intermediate and final product materials,
- Control waste outputs, so that they are within allowable and design limits; and,
- Consume no more energy than the design that the asset requires (remain efficient).
Containment requires that physical infrastructure (tanks, piping, vessels) have sufficient capacity (tank capacity is not lost to sludge build up), are structural sound (not cracked or corroded) and that they are being used as intended (containing what they were designed for). We have visual inspections, ultrasound, x-rays, thermographic imaging, and non-destructive testing to help keep the nasty stuff inside. Secondary containment structures must be sound and their capacity can’t be used up by rain water.
Control of waste streams requires that controls on emission streams are working well. Inspection and testing of emission controls, converters, scrubbers, and filters, is needed. Emissions are also very sensitive to the efficiency of energy usage, particularly if the energy comes from combustion. The combustion process itself must be efficient. We maintain atomizers, injectors, fuel controls, air control and mixing, temperature controls, and heat transfer surfaces.
Optimal energy consumption is achieved from operating at best efficiency points and maintaining the equipment, so that it is efficient at energy conversion. Control of combustion processes also achieves a level of energy efficiency as does operating pumps and compressors at the most efficient range on their operating curves, usually at design operating point for the entire process. Motors are cooled by fins and air flows; make sure they are clean and unobstructed.
Those are a few examples of things we can do with maintenance activities to ensure sustainability of our environment.