Manufacturing AUTOMATION

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The 5-year plan

Heat recovery and biomass gasification score big for Kruger Products


Apr. 20, 2015 – You have to spend money to make money — is that how the old saying goes? In learning more about the sustainability efforts at Kruger Products, a Mississauga, Ont.-based manufacturer of tissue and paper products, it appears the popular phrase should be rewritten as, You have to spend money to save money.

Five years ago, Kruger Products set out with Sustainability 2015, an aggressive plan to reduce its environmental footprint through nine separate targets, including energy, greenhouse gas emissions, water, waste, packaging and transportation.

Known for its Cashmere, Scotties and SpongeTowels brands, Kruger Products operates five plants across North America: Crabtree, Sherbrooke and Gatineau, Que.; New Westminster, B.C., and Memphis, Tenn., all of which are involved with the program.

With 2009 as a benchmark year, the company determined which objectives it wanted to reach, and the specific measures to hit. In terms of energy reduction, Kruger reached out to consultants to help identify large areas of opportunity where each of the five facilities could make “significant differences” toward the 15 per cent — or 985,000 gigajoules — target.

As the program comes to a close at the end of this year, Steven Sage, vice-president of sustainability and innovation, estimates Kruger Products will come close to achieving a 13-per-cent energy decrease.

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“We’re a company that is heavily dependent on natural resources — paper requires trees and it requires a lot of energy and water. Our preservation for those sorts of resources is critical to ensure we have an ongoing business,” he said. “And obviously cost reduction is one of the benefits that come with these [reductions].”

Bringing the targets to life
“We’ve come a long way from the days of greenwashing and saying ‘oh we’re doing great, green things’ and not being held accountable. Beyond our own internal accountability, major customers are leading the way and holding manufacturers’ feet to the fire,” he says.

He points to Walmart as an example, who pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from its global supply chain energy by 20 million metric tons by 2015 (as noted in the Walmart Global Sustainability Report – 2010 progress update).

“[Our customers] want to know what is in the actual products we sell to them, and where they come from,” says Sage. “They’re making differences in the environment and they’re looking for other companies that supply to them to do that as well. There needs to be a collaboration of people to cause change. It’s not just the people at Kruger on an island solving these problems.”

The company invested in three major energy-reduction projects throughout the five-year period.

“Capital investment and significant investment will achieve long-term benefit. You have to spend money to save money,” he continues. “This is a big company and our operations are very large, so a very tiny percentage of this is driven by behaviour. This isn’t as simple as turning off the lights when you leave a room.”

Biomass gasification
One of the first sustainability projects Kruger embarked on was at the New Westminster plant, where it teamed up with Nexterra Energy to build what they say is the first biomass gasification system in Canada, and the pulp and paper industry.

The core technology slowly heats unprocessed wood waste to produce a clean-burning syngas, which instead of natural gas, is fired into a boiler to generate stream for the production process. Along with stream from three other boilers, this supplies the plant’s total thermal energy needs. The syngas then exits the gas-processing chamber and in most situations requires little to no additional pollution control measures, says the company.

The $14.5-million project received support from Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), the British Columbia Innovative Clean Energy Fund (ICE) and Ethanol BC.

Biomass gasification began in December 2009, and the plant has since reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 54 per cent annually.

“It’s perfect because that plant is literally in metropolitan Vancouver, where people live and work around,” says Sage.

Heat recovery
In October 2010, the Gatineau tissue facility successfully implemented heat recovery technology, estimating to lower the plant’s total energy consumption by 11 per cent and greenhouse gas emissions by 14.5 per cent annually, it says.

“One project where you can make that kind of a difference in a facility is significant,” says Sage. “You start cumulating those projects and you start to get the results you’re looking for.”

Hot, humid air from two of its three paper machines is captured and forced through an energy recuperation tower, into which water is sprayed. The energy is drawn from the exhausted air to the water, through the technology, and filtered and circulated through heat exchangers to transfer the energy to the process. This air is reused to heat process water and the facility itself during winter. The third paper machine is already using heat recovery technology.

Kruger Products partnered with Thermal Energy International to develop and install the $4.8-million project, and it was financed in part by Quebec’s Agence de l’efficacité énergétique, which granted $1.9 million in financial assistance through its Heavy Oil Consumption Reduction Program.

According to Kruger, the solution is unique because it allows a combination of multiple heat sources into a single recovery unit.

The Crabtree facility features a similar heat-recovery system, which came online in 2014. According to Sage, it has reduced energy usage by 6 per cent and greenhouse gas emissions by about 8.4 per cent. Other energy-efficiency projects the tissue plant has implemented in recent years include lighting upgrades (savings of 7,700 MWh/year); an upgrade of the recycled screening system (savings of 300 MWh/year); and improvements to the compressed air system (savings of 1,200 MWh/year).

Last June, the plant was named a member of réseau Écolectrique d’Hydro-Québec for its work in energy efficiency. As part of the program, recognized companies must have reduced energy consumption by at least 5 per cent or 50 GWh/year, adopted a formal energy efficiency policy, and have a dedicated employee responsible for energy management.

A multi-layer approach
Francis Fournier works as the energy conservation manager for all five Kruger Products plants. Based in Crabtree, he routinely meets with each facility’s energy committee to see its progress and make recommendations on energy, greenhouse gases and water consumption. Representatives from the production, maintenance, engineering, environment and directorial departments comprise the various committees.

“Part of my role is to work with the sites to identify the energy-reduction initiative which would be the most beneficial for the company,” says Fournier. “By identifying the priorities, we make sure we will not duplicate efforts between sites.”

He promotes the use of a three-tiered monitoring system at the facility:

• Level 1 – Individuals at the operations and plant floor level gain daily feedback on their energy usage and can take immediate action;
• Level 2 – At the end of the week, the committee looks at how the individual site has performed over the last seven days; and
• Level 3 – Energy consumption data and trends over the past month are observed.

“Once it is explained to [employees], the reason why we’re doing it and the importance of going through these initiatives, people are more than willing to participate,” says Fournier, “but it has to be well explained.”

Documentation in this part of the process is critical, Sage says, as it helps a company know exactly where it’s starting and going.

But to fully entrench a company into a sustainability program, it also requires the company president or CEO’s endorsement, “which we have,” he adds. “It’s just too difficult to do and it requires too much energy from the organization not to have that [commitment].”

The next five years
In fact, a lot of companies are already working to reduce their energy consumption, and a strategy like this merely “puts an external face on that,” says Sage. “It can be from afar very overwhelming, but there is no rule about how to do this. The most important thing is determining what are the few most important places where you can have impact.”

“Of the nine [targets], we have achieved many but that are a couple that are going to be tough to achieve. I think we now have a much greater understanding of all the components that contribute to these metrics,” he adds.

And that knowledge will help form Sustainability 2020, the next five-year program, set to roll out early 2016. Kruger Products plans to conduct an engagement study with key stakeholders to better understand their expectations as new targets are developed.

“In five years, we can’t reverse years of activity to make improvements in terms of our environmental footprint with just the flip of a switch,” he says. “Could we ever truly be a sustainable company that has no outputs? Maybe not, but we can be constantly trying to improve.”

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2015 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.