Industrial efficiency projects under way in Northwest Indiana are not only about making the region's manufacturers green — they are about saving green as well.
Battered by the recession and stagnant growth, the region's steel mills, oil refineries and other businesses have had to conserve costs and find savings on necessities such as energy.
A recent grant from the U.S. Department of Energy has helped ArcelorMittal move one large-scale energy project from concept to implementation, said Lawrence Fabina, manager of continuous improvement at ArcelorMittal Burns Harbor and energy team coordinator for the company's U.S. operations. As a member of ArcelorMittal USA's Energy Team, Fabina said the team's job is to identify and implement initiatives to allow the company to decrease its energy and carbon consumption and production and improve its bottom line.
The company is working to install an energy-efficient boiler at its Indiana Harbor complex in East Chicago to accept gas from the No. 7 blast furnace to generate steam. The steam will be sent to existing generators to produce 38 megawatts of electricity to use at the plant, and reduce the reliance on buying electricity. With the boiler, the practice of releasing blast furnace gas through a flare stack is expected to be nearly eliminated.
"Because we are an energy intensive business, we recognize that energy reduction plays a significant role in achieving safe, sustainable steel, especially with increasing energy costs and the environmental impact that is the result of combusting energy," Fabina said.
U.S. Steel Corp. launched a $220 million project last year at its Gary Works integrated steel-making complex to not only reduce energy but to improve its carbon footprint. The company is planning to install two modules that would generate up to 500,000 tons annually of a semi-crystalline carbon alloy substitute for coke. The modules will produce Cokonyx, which is formed from a proprietary process using different types of coals and a process slightly different than traditional coke generation techniques.
The company is aiming to better leverage itself against price fluctuations facing certain types of coal. There also is an opportunity to sell excess product on the open market.
"We have implemented a company-wide program, with involvement from all levels of the organization, including our union-represented employees, to investigate, create and share innovative and best-practice solutions to reduce energy intensity per ton of steel and related (carbon dioxide) emissions," said John Surma, U.S. Steel CEO and chairman.
Robert Kramer, director of Purdue University Calumet's Energy Efficiency and Reliability Center, said projects such as these make good business sense and provide other benefits such as improving the environment.
Businesses are "interested in saving money, energy efficiency and, of course, improving the environment," Kramer said.
Some energy efficiency measures can be implemented from existing technologies, but there are others that require new research. He said that is where the Energy Efficiency and Reliability Center steps in. The center provides assistance including research on new technologies, energy survey assistance, environmental emissions reduction and renewable energy sources.
Kramer said the center has worked with about 20 companies in the past few years on various projects and has 10 research projects that are under way. He said one project the center worked on was helping U.S. Steel control its large electric load and avoid a blackout as a result of energy fluctuations.
Aside from the company saving money, energy efficiency projects also provide opportunities for workers in the building trades and contractors to stage and install the new equipment, said Dewey Pearman, executive director of the Construction Advancement Foundation.
"Any time a major production facility invests in a plant, it shows that they've committed to (staying long term)," Pearman said.