Get Energy Costs under Control

April 11, 2003

Today, energy expenditures are a significant drain on chemical industry financial resources. Key to industry profitability ," and perhaps even survival ," is the ability to control costs. Fortunately, numerous energy-slashing opportunities are simply waiting to be discovered.

During the recent Texas Technology Showcase in Houston, experts from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), universities and industry provided some advice for identifying energy-saving opportunities and implementing the technologies to accomplish those savings.

Pinpointing opportunities

Energy assessments can uncover myriad opportunities to slash costs. Large plants probably will be able to perform their own energy audits using readily available tools combined with in-house expertise.

Small- and mid-sized facilities, however, might want to take advantage of the free assessments offered by the DOE Office of Industrial Technologies' (OIT) Industrial Assessment Centers (IACs, www.oit. According to Dr. Warren Heffington, showcase speaker and assistant professor in Texas A&M University's mechanical engineering department, the assessments are performed by local teams of engineering faculty and students from 26 universities across the nation. They culminate in recommendations that average approximately $55,000 in potential annual savings.

Heffington, who is director of Texas A&M's IAC, says the assessments typically result in recommendations that call for low-cost or no-cost projects. Assessments and recommendations are based on DOE best practices.

To be eligible for a no-cost IAC assessment, said Heffington, a facility must meet three out of the following four criteria:

Have energy bills under $2 million annually.

Have gross annual sales under $100 million.

Employ fewer than 500 people.

Lack the in-house expertise to perform the assessment.

Even if a facility is deemed ineligible for a no-cost assessment, DOE might be able to help. Its OIT BestPractices program ( bestpractices) provides plantwide assessments on a 50/50 cost-shared basis, up to $100,000, noted Dr. Mitch Olszewski of Oak Ridge National Laboratory. He told showcase attendees that the assessments provide "a blueprint for savings" in plant operations and generally incorporate both energy and non-energy-related savings, new/emerging process technologies and best practices associated with plant support systems.

The assessments not only help plants reduce energy costs, said Olszewski, but also assist DOE in meeting its goals to reduce emissions and increase energy efficiency, productivity and global competitiveness across industries.

Many facilities have realized significant savings through implementation of DOE recommendations. For example, said Olszewski, a petrochemical plant in California shaved more than $4 million annually from its energy bills by undertaking a combined-heat-and-power project and switching to gas-fired process heaters and variable-speed drives for its cooling towers and pumps. Payback was less than three years.

If facility management decides to go it alone, it might first want to look at major systems and sub-systems instead of the plant as a whole. "Looking at the forest that is your plant may just boggle your mind," warns Texas A&M's Heffington. "Sometimes you might just want to look at a few dying trees."

No matter who performs it, said Heffington, the assessment should yield a formal technical report with recommendations and detailed descriptions of the suggested projects. To prepare for any type of energy assessment, he added, plant management first must chase a bit of paperwork. Typically, a facility will need 12 months of historical data such as utility bills and equipment logs.

Using DOE tools

Facilities performing their own assessments ," or plants not yet ready for a full-blown assessment ," still can benefit from a number of DOE energy-efficiency tools, most of which are available as downloads from

Key DOE tools are listed in the box. According to Fred Hart, technology manager for DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, new tools related to furnace energy efficiency and nitrogen oxide (NOX) emission reductions also are in the works.

From opportunity to implementation

Once the assessment is performed and recommendations made, the implementation process begins. Next month's "A Closer Look" examines the equipment and technology advances that aim to turn energy-saving opportunities into energy-saving realities.

DOE Tools

MotorMaster+ 3.0

assists in energy-efficient motor selection and management and "contains a database of every motor company in the U.S."

Pumping System Assessment Tool (PSAT)

assesses the efficiency of pumping systems.

ASDMaster works with the pumping system assessment tool to help determine the applicability of an adjustable-speed drive system.

Steam System Scoping Tool

profiles and grades steam system operation and maintenance.

Steam System Assessment Tool

allows users to assess potential savings from specific steam-system improvements.


provides comprehensive information about compressed-air system assessments.

3E Plus

insulation assessment tool evaluates the insulation thickness on steam lines and tanks.

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