Sustainability Sustains Its Appeal

Chemical companies continue to foster a switch to green technology.

By Seán Ottewell, Editor at Large

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Source: Eastman Chemicals.

"We have achieved an essentially one-step process in the laboratory (Figure 1)," said Clendennen, adding that while further commercial development depends on demand market confidence is building now. Once a decision is made, it would take about 18 months for commercial production to begin, she believes.

This growth in market confidence coincides with more and more of Eastman's major customers such as L'Oreal, Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson setting their own sustainability targets.

The process is but one of a whole raft of Eastman initiatives geared to greening the company and saving money. These include: completing 107 process optimization projects, repairing 3,200 utility/steam leaks, improving the accuracy of air flow measurements on boilers and installing 82,000 feet of pipe insulation as well as recycling 1,400 tons of cardboard and paper fibers and replacing 16,841 incandescent bulbs with energy-saving fluorescent bulbs. A project to improve soap dispensers in rest rooms is saving $30,000 annually in materials and $37,000/year in labor.

A Similar Story
"Sustainability is built into the core of how we operate and is a strategic priority for us," notes Pat Loughlin, vice president of environment, health, safety and quality and chair of the sustainability council at Air Products, Allentown, Pa.

"The principles behind sustainability have always driven Air Products — for example, increasing energy efficiency and environmental problem-solving — but we haven't always called it sustainability. In the past it would have been EH&S [environmental, health and safety], or customer focus. But it's become a bigger priority for us over the last few years and is opening up new opportunities and challenges."

The company has specific targets, for example: to reduce energy consumption by 7% by 2015; to cut water use by 10% by the same year; and to decrease hazardous waste by 20% from a 2005 baseline. Air Products has trimmed toxic releases substantially over the last 10 years and now aims to maintain them at the current level.

Like Eastman, the company views process optimization as an important driver, especially for cutting energy use and generation of byproducts. Air Products also is placing more emphasis on developing uses for waste streams. For example, it now makes a saleable product out of aqueous ammonia waste via treatment in a modified distillation and purification process.

"Another example here is when we took the still bottom from one reaction and used it as a feedstock for a different product. The still bottom was produced by an amine process but now we use it as a feedstock in the manufacture of an epoxy curing agent. In terms of savings, both of these processes pay for themselves. But the primary driver is the environmental benefit," notes Loughlin.

The company is involved in a whole range of initiatives aimed at boosting the sustainability both of its own activities and those of its customers.

One is ion transport membrane (ITM) technology. At the moment, oxygen production requires large air-separation plants and cryogenic processing and so is very energy intensive. "Ceramic ITM technology has the potential to enable more economical and energy-efficient oxygen and may reduce by up to 30% the power required to produce oxygen for gasification and other energy-intensive applications, such as power, chemicals/petrochemicals and metals," says Loughlin.

An ITM project currently is underway with unnamed customers and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). "This is close to semi-commercial. Both the customers and the DOE are very excited about its prospects — and, of course, it fits in well with our other oxyfuel business supplying energy-intensive industries such as steel manufacturing and cement," he adds.

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