Lessons in environmental responsibility

Tony Nicholls, business development manager at Furmanite International, considers the regulatory pressures faced by industrial plant operators, and looks at simple initiatives that can ensure greater compliance.

Initiatives such as the Climate Change Levy continue to incite extensive discussion and cause mixed reaction – with suggestions that manufacturing costs in Britain rose by £143 million in the 12 months following the Levy’s April 2001 introduction and pleas for revision from some, whilst others believe we need forceful regulation. But, when it comes down to it, the truth is; plant operators in the current industry climate simply must comply.

And it’s not just Climate Change regulations. Forthcoming fugitive emissions legislation, not to mention incentives (Enhanced Capital Allowance providing tax relief on new energy-efficient equipment, and Emissions Trading Schemes allowing companies with low emissions to trade emissions ‘credits’ with other companies) are all being used to encourage companies to take responsibility. Further, Environment Agency prosecutions are on the increase. So, being more environmentally aware is now a business priority.

Failing to meet requirements, whether we agree with their mechanics or not, is going to cost in every sense; wastage through leakage or emissions is, of course a cost itself, then there are the potential fines (or at least the need to purchase additional credits) and the loss of tax incentives.

Whilst there is certainly a general willingness to work towards more environmentally friendly production within UK industry, it is clear that resources and current technologies are not being used to their optimum levels in order to support this desire. Indeed, in its latest report, despite the varied causes of environmental pollution, the Environment Agency identifies poor management as the common denominator. With little awareness of what can be done, and panic over massive investment requirements, it seems many operators are chasing their tails. But the changes needn’t be huge to have significant effect.

Energy efficiency

Take energy efficiency. There are numerous measures that can be taken with immediate and valuable return on investment. Reduce leaks – energy losses through leakage are said to account for some £12 billion per year in the UK alone, quite apart from incurring a levy for inefficient operation – for example. And that doesn’t necessarily mean downtime or sacrificing production. Leak-sealing is a technology that has now been developed to such a specialist level that almost any leak can be effectively sealed on-line, even when operators’ initial reactions would usually be to shut down.

Similarly, operations such as valve testing – as a required plant maintenance procedure – needn’t involve outages. On-line test systems, such as Furmanite’s Trevitest can accurately test safety relief valves on-line, reducing fuel usage, and avoiding interruption to plant production as a well as identifying wastage through leaking valves quickly and easily.

Once again, maintenance strategies are brought to the fore. In order to meet today’s environmental standards, operators must acknowledge that shutdown maintenance is just one element of managing and maintaining efficient environmentally-friendly plant. There is considerably more that can be done, particularly in the light of developments in on-line technologies and services, which now offer solutions to almost every plant complaint.

These services also make it more possible to act immediately when a problem occurs, rather than allowing plant to ‘soldier on’ and could help to reduce environmental impact, avoid waste (no matter how small the quantities) and stop the problem developing and costing more to fix in the long term (particularly where unplanned shutdown is incurred).

Wasted resources of any kind, not just energy, are an obvious inefficiency and one that is often straightforward to remedy. Looking at fugitive emissions as an example, even leaks of gases such as SF6, which is invisible and odourless, can now be detected and sealed quickly and easily. The processes of detection and sealing can be carried out on-site within just one day and all work is performed on-line, with no disruption to the normal running of the plant.

Indeed there are any number of products to aid monitoring of potential leak points. Furmanite’s Milsheff spray-stop valve and flange covers, for example, are designed to safeguard against harmful chemical pipeline leaks, providing a visible warning (through a change of colour) and deflecting the leaking fluid. These can also be supplied for special applications such as pumps, or to protect instruments or other equipment in hazardous locations.

For a more comprehensive monitoring tool, fugitive emissions inspections and management programmes (FEIP) are now highly advanced and extremely efficient. Many, including Furmanite’s, are fully automated, through a system of tagging. The information provided allows management to accurately assess environmental and cost implications of all fugitive emissions.

Skills and resources

But efficient maintenance strategies to meet environmental requirements are not just about products and services – it’s also about use of skills and resources. Whilst it is acknowledged that maintenance budgets are generally tight, it’s not always practical to carry out all maintenance requirements in-house, particularly with a wide variety of services to deploy, many of them specialist.

Organisations able to offer a spectrum of services are being awarded long-term maintenance and ‘healthcare’ contracts. Given that proven expertise levels and quality of workmanship are high, the benefits are great, and partnering in this fashion between operator and contractor delivers maximum value. Indeed, Furmanite goes even further, offering its operator partners a permanent technician, fully trained to provide all the Furmanite plant optimisation services, from assessment to repair as a full-time member of the on-site maintenance team.

With so many combinations of technologies and services there is a great deal that can be done both to move in line with environmental requirements and to benefit production and profitability. Ultimately, no matter how the political debates unravel it makes good business sense to improve plant efficiency and work to reduce the environmental impact of processes. And if this can be achieved simply by changing the maintenance strategy of the plant to a more proactive one and solving problems in new ways – such as taking advantage of on-line leak-sealing capabilities to seal a leak when it’s identified rather than wait for a planned shutdown – it can only have a positive impact on that all-important bottom-line.

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