Technology Takes on Energy Costs

May 27, 2003

On the energy front, dramatic cost-savings opportunities await those chemical facilities willing to employ readily available assessment tools and services (see "A Closer Look" in Chemical Processing's April 2003 issue). Even greater savings might well be in store for decision-makers willing to apply the latest technologies to address those opportunities.

"Far-reaching technology changes will be essential to America's energy future," according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). "By investing in technology breakthroughs today, our nation can look forward to a more resilient economy and secure future."

Innovation partnerships

DOE's Office of Industrial Technologies (OIT), in partnership with industry, has developed a number of new and innovative energy-saving technologies. During the recent Texas Technology Showcase in Houston, OIT Technology Manager Dr. Brian Valentine talked about some of these technologies.

By DOE's definition, said Valentine, emerging technologies fall outside the mainstream development pipeline. They have an energy-saving focus and are ready for commercial application. A few of these jointly developed technologies for the chemical and/or petroleum sectors are highlighted in the box.

"We want to see these technologies get out there in industry and save energy and save money," said Valentine. OIT can assist in the cost sharing of demonstrations and implementation, he added. For more information about OIT's emerging technologies, visit folio.shtml and

Equipment enhancements

Intelligence and other enhancements to existing equipment promise to squeeze more performance out of fewer energy dollars.

Pump users can "only go so far" to improve efficiency on the mechanical side, stressed Mike Pemberton, a manager with Seneca Falls, N.Y.-based ITT's Industrial Pump Group, PumpSmart Control Solutions and a showcase speaker. Pump users can further improve efficiency through installation of an intelligent pump system such as PumpSmart, he maintains.

The PumpSmart system is "really a standard variable-speed drive [VSD] with some intelligence added to it," said Pemberton. It automatically responds to process and pump system changes, slows down to protect the pump and understands when to resume safe operation. "What we're really doing here is implementing VSDs as a primary control element," added Pemberton.

A typical 75-horsepower pump uses approximately $20,000 in electricity annually, noted Pemberton. Case studies have shown operating savings between 35 percent and 45 percent with PumpSmart.

Of course, VSDs are not for everyone, cautioned Pemberton. A pump assessment can uncover process modifications that offer the most potential for efficiency improvements.

Plants also can maximize energy savings by trading inefficient motors for new highly efficient models. Before doing so, said Rich Schiferl, director of advanced development for Milwaukee-based Rockwell Automation's Power Systems, motor users need an accurate method to determine electric motor efficiency and guide motor-related decision-making.

Rockwell Automation's Reliance Electric offers the Electric Motor Wizard ," a portable metering technology that meters speed, temperature, resistance, power, voltage, current and frequency. It uses a laptop computer for data collection, said Schiferl, and a proprietary algorithm to calculate motor efficiency.

To test, personnel need not remove the motor, uncouple it from its load, halt production or transfer the unit to an off-site facility. All electrical measurements can be made at the motor disconnect point, Schiferl told showcase attendees.

The method's accuracy, contended Schiferl, is comparable to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) 112B lab test ," which not only is more difficult to perform, but requires a longer testing time.

The Reliance test provides plant decision-makers with a database of in-service motor performance, noted Shiferl. It detects under- and overloading and can be used to guide or prioritize motor-replacement decisions.

Energy-slashing enhancements also can be found in heat-exchanger equipment, compressors and other plant equipment essentials. A little research related to emerging technologies and equipment enhancements might go a long way in banishing your plant's "energy-cost blues."

An Emerging Technology Sampling

A catalytic hydrogenation retrofit reactor

developed in conjunction with Air Products and Chemicals Inc., Allentown, Pa., and Johnson Matthey, Wayne, Pa, This monolith loop reactor can be retrofit to existing plant reactors to replace slurry catalysts, and its design can be adapted to many hydrogenation processes and chemistries. Users stand to save on both electricity and natural gas, said OIT.

A membrane for olefin recovery.

Along with OIT, project partners Membrane Technology Research Inc., Menlo Park, Calif.; Phillips Sumika Polypropylene Co., Bartlesville, Okla.; and Equistar of Houston developed a propylene/propane membrane separation system to recover olefins from waste. Widespread application could result in an energy savings of 0.8 trillion Btu by 2020, noted OIT.

Pressure-swing adsorption for product recovery

, again developed in conjunction with Air Products and Chemicals. This technology, said OIT, is an energy-efficient, economical method to recover hydrogen from refinery offgas for reuse as a higher value product or to recover olefins from polyolefin plant vent gases.

A concurrent distillation tray

developed in conjunction with the University of Texas and Jaeger Products of Houston. The tray offers an alternative distillation process that beats the efficiency and performance of traditional distillation. It provides capacities up to 100 percent higher than those of sieve trays, says OIT, at an energy savings of 10 percent.

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