Accurate measurement of what an industrial facility is emitting is required to ensure smaller industrial companies remain competitive following the introduction of the carbon tax, warns BRENDAN WELSH of Siemens Australia. He shares why owning your own emission monitoring gear is a good idea.
It took around eight consecutive years of drought before most Australians understood the value of a reliable water source and changed their water usage habits to preserve what little we had. Activities like washing the driveway or soaking the lawn are distant recollections. And, even though it’s raining now, it would be foolish to think we won’t enter a drought again.
Like the availability of fresh water, the damaging effects of greenhouse gases can’t be ignored. Now, more than before, it’s time to consider what we are expelling into our atmosphere. By introducing a carbon tax, the Australian Government has taken a carrot and stick approach to help reduce the impact of the country’s contribution to climate change.
Facilities that limit their emissions will not be impacted; however, those who exceed their allowances will be punished (financially). Having a carbon tax will redefine the boundaries concerning at what point you start to take notice of your outputs and practices.
Facilities managers of industrial facilities need to be fully aware of what carbon dioxide e-tonnes their facility is emitting, because some chemicals are far worse for the environment than carbon. For instance, nitrous oxide has the ability to trap 296 times more heat per kilogram than carbon dioxide, while sulphur hexafluoride can trap 22,200 times more heat per kilo than carbon dioxide.
The global warming potential of these gases could be extreme if they remain unchecked and companies exceeding the legal limit they are allowed to release into the environment will have to pay. Many of these gases are simply by-products of modern manufacturing or processing techniques and, therefore, can’t necessarily be avoided. But, often, they can be reduced.
FOCUS SHIFTED TO SMALLER EMITTERS
Large emitters, like power stations and smelters, have been monitoring their outputs for some time, usually at the request of the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) or similar agencies. But, now that the carbon tax has been approved by parliament, all eyes will turn to those smaller companies that have been issued with an emissions target or threshold by the government.
To remain competitive in a global marketplace, these smaller companies will have to do everything in their power to limit the impact of this new tax. One way companies can do this is by measuring accurately what they are emitting. This should be done for a number of reasons, most of them financial.
Fully understanding emissions limits, legislation and the equipment that monitors these emissions is no easy task for facility managers of industrial facilities. That’s why I believe it’s important to install a ready-made system that is easy to set up, provides data in layman’s terms and can be scaled up in future, if required.
An extractive system that is factory calibrated to monitor, say, four gases, such as oxygen, carbon dioxide, methane and hydrogen sulphide, is a good place to start for most industrial facilities.
Some monitoring systems require employees to climb ladders and platforms attached to chimneys to check results or make adjustments, which can greatly increase occupational health and safety risks on-site and often requires additional personnel training.
It is possible, however, for an extractive, land-based solution to be housed in the vicinity of the flue, enabling equipment to be checked and maintained in a safe environment adjacent to the chimney or flue.
MAKE TWICE THE SAVINGS
By regularly tuning your facility’s processes, you could be making twice the savings – by reducing the amount of carbon tax you pay (output) and by saving fuel in, say, manufacturing processes (input).
It’s like taking your car to a mechanic and having a probe placed into the exhaust pipe to measure the fumes. This device helps the mechanic identify the health of your car’s engine. Is it running rich (wasting fuel) or running lean (not being provided with enough fuel to run efficiently)?
ENSURE A REALISTIC TARGET
How can you check that the target your facility has been given is realistic? It seems to me that many targets provided by the Government are quite arbitrary. My feedback has been that they appear either to be too low or, in some cases, too high, which companies can benefit from when not reaching this threshold.
But, too low a target can cost businesses thousands of dollars or even their very existence. By being able to prove to an agency that their target is unrealistic, through verified regular monitoring conducted on-site, it may help convince the authority to reset the target.
IDENTIFY PLANT OR PROCESS INEFFICIENCIES
Measuring what your facility is expelling into the atmosphere could lead to identifying some plant or process inefficiencies. Many industries use gas boilers as part of their operations. These pieces of equipment are notorious for wasting energy if not tuned properly. Black smoke spewing from a chimney is a visible sign that something within the manufacturing process may not be right. But gas exhaust is often clear and needs properly designed equipment to analyse it.
Boiler management systems are not new, but are, in my opinion, underutilised tools at many establishments. A boiler management system used in conjunction with emission monitoring equipment can point to significant savings in running an industrial facility.
PROVIDE REGULAR DATA ECONOMICALLY
Finally, owning your emission monitoring gear can also pay for itself. Some emitters may be required to provide data to an environmental agency on a regular basis. Paying a third party organisation to measure your facility’s emissions and submit the findings to the EPA regularly can be very expensive. I have found that some companies can purchase their own monitoring equipment for around the same costs as a couple of years of third party monitoring.
CARBON TAX IS HERE TO STAY
Setting up monitoring equipment and providing management with data is no easy task. I recommend consulting with your energy company or your local environmental agency to determine which monitoring equipment is best suited to your industry and your facility.
Finland introduced a carbon trading scheme in 1990, so Australia really is one of the last established countries to go down this path. Don’t expect the carbon tax to be here today and gone tomorrow.
Brendan Welsh is Siemens Australia’s industrial analytics marketing manager.