Years ago I learned about the concept of “industrial ecology”. In involves industrial facilities constructively working together with neighbouring industrial facilities to better manage local resources and issues.
Not only does it make good economic sense, it makes good community, social, and environmental sense. And it is very applicable today – just like it was applicable years ago.
So … why is it not done more often? The normal answer is … “it is not in our core business.” I find that answer interesting, because I thought that increasing income, reducing expenses, and improving corporate image is always core business.
Let’s consider some examples that I have observed.
A small chemical company was very interested in reducing electrical costs. They purchased electricity from the grid, and paid two prices … one for consumption, and one for peak power. The peak power portion is used by the power companies to provide peak capacity in their power plants. Of note was the fact that down the road from the chemical plant was an aluminium smelter, which had its own dedicated power station. The load on the chemical plant was a very small fraction of the load on the smelter, and it is likely the chemical plant could be serviced without an increase in the size of the power station. Working together, the aluminium smelter could sell power to the chemical plant at the same consumption cost, but no fee for peak power. The aluminium smelter makes a profit selling surplus capacity, and the chemical plant has a reduction in electrical costs because the peak power fee is eliminated. Win-win.
Another small chemical plant was located next to an oil refinery. Here, the two companies do work together closely, sharing many things. The chemical company feedstock is waste from the refinery, and the chemical company shares in the cost of security, canteen and basic utilities (such as fuel and cooling water). Shared expenses always cost less. Win-win.
A steel forming facility was located adjacent to a hydrocarbon fractionation facility. The steel forming facility purchased fuel gas from the grid to run its ovens. The hydrocarbon fractionation facility had a stream of low value gas from purifying some of its products, and it was excessive for their fuel needs. An effort was made to sell this low value gas from the hydrocarbon fractionation facility to the steel forming facility, but the “marketing people” made the process too hard. The result … low value gas is flared from the hydrocarbon processing facility, and the steel forming facility continues to buy fuel gas at market prices. A win-win opportunity lost.
A group of companies in the same area agreed to pool fire fighting resources. They interconnected fire water ring mains, allowing them to operate in either stand-alone mode or connected to other facility mode. Training exercises were shared, and ultimately each facility agreed to provide personnel to fight any fire as required. Training costs were reduced, and security of firewater and fire fighting personnel were increased. Win-win.
A coal gasification facility was built – with part of the syngas being used to make power and the balance being used to make commodities. Naturally, the power station used boiler feed water. To utilise low grade heat, the boiler feed water was circulated around the complex to collect the low grade heat – reducing the load on the fuel and steam system. As part of the design, this circulating boiler feed water was used as a SOURCE of heat for such items as building heat and heat tracing. Any steam could then be preserved for power production, or running the process. Win-win.
There are other examples. One is fabrication shops. Once there are enough industrial facilities, light and heavy maintenance shops can open in the neighbourhood, and additional opportunities can be opened for industrial ecology. For example, a fabricating shop would have a heavy load on compressed air, but would be a nominal 8-hour day operation. The surplus capacity for the remaining 16-hours could be sold to the continuous processing facilities. Again, win-win.
I am sure there are many more where the opportunity to work with the neighbours can be mutually beneficial. Please tell us about your examples – we would love to hear about them.