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While new options such as landfill gas and biomass fuels are under development, switching to an alternative energy source isn't feasible for most existing plants. However, just about every facility has room for improvement when it comes to reducing energy consumption.
Ask any manufacturer what their biggest challenges are, and the cost of energy is likely to be at or very near the top of the list. Companies in the ceramic and related industries that fire with natural gas have seen their gas prices double, triple and even quadruple over the last few years, as supplies have tightened due to increasing demand and damage from several major hurricanes. While a warmer-than-expected winter could help ease supply shortages in the near term, just about everyone agrees that the price of natural gas is only going in one direction-up. As a result, manufacturers who want to stay competitive must either reduce their energy consumption, or find an alternative (cheaper) energy source.
While new options such as landfill gas and biomass fuels are under development, switching to an alternative energy source isn't feasible for most existing plants. However, just about every facility has room for improvement when it comes to reducing energy consumption. According to J.J. Lukacs and Fred McMann, a number of areas pertaining to kilns can be "energy eaters." For example, the burners might be inefficient, sized incorrectly for the application, or operating with an incorrect air-to-fuel ratio. Inefficient use of combustion air, improper control of gas flow, backdrafting and air infiltration are other common sources of wasted energy. Knowing how to pinpoint these problems is crucial to developing a successful energy saving strategy. (See the article "Taming the Energy Eaters.")
Replacing older, heavier refractories with new ultra-lightweight products can also help reduce energy consumption. For example, in detailed thermal studies where a new ceramic foam was used in place of bubble alumina brick in technical alumina firing applications at temperatures of 1650 degrees C (3002 degrees F) and higher, fuel cost reductions of 40% have been achieved. (See the article "Investing in Ceramics: New Refractories for Weight Loss.")
Future issues of Ceramic Industry will continue to explore strategies for reducing energy use, and we'll also cover any new developments in alternative energy as they apply to our industry. The energy challenge is not likely to disappear any time soon. However, together we can continue to look for new solutions. If your company has implemented an innovative energy saving strategy and would be willing to share your story with Ceramic Industry readers, please let us know.