Trimming the fat - ClayTech UK focuses on energy efficiency and investment

Clay Technology magazine
11 Dec 2012

Delegates at ClayTech UK on 22 November warned that energy and climate-related taxes are rising and that electricity costs could double in the next 10 years. However, the Staffordshire-based event wasn’t a forum for grumbling and gloomy portents. Rather, it was seen as an opportunity to cut a leaner figure.  

Mat Newton, Senior Energy and Water Manager at Hanson UK, headquartered in Berkshire, said that climate change should be seen as an opportunity for product differentiation and cost reduction. He mentioned responsible sourcing, carbon calculator tools and carbon offsetting as ways to stay competitive. Nevertheless, he warned, ‘We are facing some very difficult choices – where we invest, how we invest and where the money comes from.’  

Dr Andrew McDermott, Technical Manager of the British Ceramic Confederation in Stoke-on-Trent, said that improved monitoring and process control could also save money. However, while moving to more efficient kilns could reduce energy consumption by 25%, he noted that the technology is expensive and the payback is lengthy. He added that other technologies – such as combined heat and power systems – are extensively used on the continent but have not thrived in the UK due to the lack of legislative incentives.  

Indeed, unhelpful legislation was a recurring theme throughout the day. While biomass was mooted as an alternative to fossil fuel feedstock, reservations were immediately raised about the lack of UK legislation supporting its use. Delegates bemoaned that the UK gold-plates directives while other EU countries flout them. McDermott noted that, ‘Process emissions are discarded in some countries, [while] in other countries they are included.’  

Nevertheless, speakers peddled their streamlining wares. Nigel Jones, Sales Manager of Halesowen-based ERIKS UK, said that 65% of the UK’s industrial energy consumption comes from electric motors. ‘A motor will easily exceed its purchase cost within a month,’ he said. ‘A standard 132kW motor will cost £1.8m in electricity over a 15-year working life.’  

Jones said that ERIKS’ total cost of ownership calculator could improve motor selection. By considering the motor application, lifecycle costs and the product that needs replacing, he claimed manufacturers could save thousands of pounds.  

Chris Mahoney, Technical Manager of Structured Productivity Solutions Ltd, based in Newport claimed that 13% of energy usage occurs during downtime. He outlined a monitoring system that establishes a link between energy use and variables in the production process, which makes companies more aware of where energy is wasted. The system measures usage through pulses from the energy source and converts them into kilowatt-hours per tonne when dealing with brick manufacture.  

‘Even with the same product, there’s still a variation in energy consumption,’ he said. ‘[If] we look at the energy lost, we can break waiting down to its constituent part, [for example], waiting for kiln cars. When you’re waiting for kiln cars, switch off the plant and you will save energy as a consequence.’  

In a similar vein, Andrew Carp, Director at Resource UK Ltd in Stoke-on-Trent, talked about the savings that can be made by incorporating a voltage optimisation system. ‘The UK grid supplies at approximately 240V. But the equipment is designed for 220V European market. Voltage reduction from 240V to 220V will save energy.’  

He said his organisation’s electronic voltage stabiliser – which ensures that output power is stabilised and optimised – can pay back the initial cost of installation in a short time period. When the system was used at a manufacturing brickworks, he said energy usage was reduced by 14%, saving more than £28,000 a year. He added that the installation cost of £67,721 would pay for itself in less than two-and-a-half years.  

Several other technologies were mentioned. Michele Bernini, of Italian firm Bernini Impianti, based in Bologna, outlined the use of various biomass feedstocks for kilns including olive, sunflower, grain and palm oil kernel husks, sawdust and wood pellets, while his countryman Christian Rinaldi of BOCEDI, based in Scandiano, claimed that a stretch hooding palette wrapping technology reduces the amount of film needed by up to 45%.  

Paul Houghton and his colleagues at Wienerberger UK replaced the kiln at the company’s Kingsbury brickworks to make processing more efficient. ‘The new kiln design was more energy efficient – a 25% saving from the old one,’ he explained. ‘The walls are a third thicker. The roof, at the hottest part, is twice as thick, which has made quite a difference to energy efficiency.’  

With all of these ideas still swirling in heads by day’s end, conference and ICTA chairman Neil Tobin was charged with the task of summing up proceedings. ‘I have an easy way of saving energy,’ he said. ‘Switch the bugger off.’