Pharma Companies Cutting Energy Consumption To Gain A Competitive Advantage

In what is now a highly competitive marketplace, Pharmaceutical manufacturers understand that increasing efficiencies and cutting costs can deliver a much-needed competitive advantage. Since improving efficiency plays a big part in reducing costs for pharma, it also increases predictable earnings. 

Since the pharmaceutical industry needs to maintain critical environments for production in terms of temperature, humidity, room pressurization, cleanliness, and containment, it is incredibly energy-intensive. Unlike many others in the commercial sector, most energy consumption in pharmaceutical manufacturing arises from within the process itself and the systems that support it – particularly during the conversion stage, when natural substances are converted into pharmaceutical substances. Labs, research facilities, and industrial manufacturing sites can be among the highest energy consumers, doubling or tripling the typical energy consumption of office space. As such, the industry is currently spending more than $1 billion on energy consumption every year – and generating 55% more emissions than the automotive industry.

Maintaining high product quality while reducing costs can be a challenge for many pharma manufacturers. The solution, of course, is improving energy efficiency. Effective energy management has been shown to improve process efficiency, product quality, and production rates — all of which lead to productivity and profitability gains. As a result, pharmaceutical plant managers are looking for more advanced energy management solutions, including everything from alternative fuel and energy supply options to demand response, reliability, and on-site generation.

But, before jumping to install the latest energy technology, it is essential for pharmaceutical companies to understand and optimize current energy consumption so they can implement the energy solutions that best complement operations and goals. 

UNDERSTANDING CURRENT ENERGY USE

Understanding current energy consumption begins with smarter data collection and analysis. Lack of real-time energy consumption data has, previously, impacted the industry’s ability to implement strategic energy management initiatives. That needs to change. Progressive pharmaceutical companies are shifting their focus from how much to produce to how to produce, simply by monitoring the efficiency of their energy-drawing machines. Gaining a holistic view of energy consumption by monitoring HVACs, motors, and drives, vacuum pumps, fans, spray systems, pressure regulators, drain taps, cooling towers, compressors, temperature and pressure gauges, dryers, blowers, separators, etc. can dramatically reduce energy costs. A thorough analysis of energy consumption data allows pharmaceutical manufacturers to identify new ways to reduce day-to-day energy use – and waste – thereby boosting efficiencies and their bottom line.

The key factors affecting a pharmaceutical facility’s energy consumption include facility type (for example, research and development versus bulk production), the products produced, the plant’s location, and the efficiency of the plant’s major systems. Nevertheless, the distribution of energy consumption in the pharmaceutical industry generally breaks down as such:

HVAC

Environmental control impacts product quality and manufacturing costs directly. In the pharma and biotech sectors, these environmental controls are critical for equipment and machinery to operate properly, to maintain specific temperature and humidity settings for chemical and biologic agents, and to ensure the people working in the facilities are comfortable. Since heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems run non-stop, it’s important to monitor efficiency 24/7.

Here are a few things to consider:

  • A detailed audit of the HVAC system can evaluate system baseline performance against weather data and load profiles. The ability to see how the energy is distributed and used allows companies to budget more appropriately and evaluate cost-saving efficiency upgrades.
  • Installing flow meters, power meters, temperature, and relative humidity sensors will improve real-time control decisions, reporting on key performance indicators (KPIs), and measurement and verification.
  • Installing automatic energy management systems provides a centralized view of the HVAC system, allowing companies to track performance, identify trends, and highlight potential problem areas.  For example, automatically resetting the supply air temperature on the cleanroom AHU will reduce simultaneous heating and cooling while allowing the system to reset chilled water and hot water temperatures. An automated system can also control condenser water pumps, cooling towers, and chillers based on their relationship to one another. The end result is an opportunity to reduce the facility’s energy bills by more than 20%.
  • Matching the HVAC system to actual space user requirements will facilitate proper temperature, and relative humidity set points, air-change-per-hour requirements, and space pressurization.
  • Providing fresh-air pre-cooling coils will improve humidity control in cleanrooms.
  • Installing variable frequency drives on air-handling unit (AHU) fans, chillers, boiler combustion fans, chilled and hot water pumps, condenser water pumps, and cooling tower fans provides greater control of the AC motor speed and torque.
  • Newer heating and cooling systems are far more efficient than old ones, so it may be worth replacing systems that are more than ten years old.

COMPRESSED AIR

Pharma manufacturers frequently use compressed air for equipment operation, vacuum cleaning, spray systems, and instrument air in hazardous areas. Since compressed air may come in contact with pharma products, it’s often filtered to meet strict contamination control standards. Unfortunately, at only 10%, compressed air is one of the least energy-efficient applications in any drug manufacturing plant. As such, compressed air should be used in strict moderation – turned off when not needed or replaced for a higher efficiency compressor. Reducing energy consumption in the compressed air system is inexpensive and can result in cost savings of up to 50%

PUMPS

Pumping coolants is an energy-intensive pharmaceutical application. Research studies have shown that over 20% of the energy consumed by pumping systems could be saved through changes to equipment and/or control systems. The initial capital costs of the pump and motor traditionally make up just 2.5% of the total costs. On average, approximately 40% of the energy supplied to centrifugal pumps in chemical processing is wasted as unrecoverable low-grade heat. It is worth noting that only 6% of energy losses are caused by operational issues, while 34% are built in at the design stage — meaning they are attributable to decisions made during design and the increasingly common practice of fast-tracking this critical step. When inadequate time is budgeted for proper engineering analysis, design engineers are forced to compensate by oversizing pumps, which results in inefficient operation. 

Energy costs make up about 95% of the lifetime costs of the pump. Maintenance costs comprise the remaining 2.5%. As such, the initial choice of a pump system, consisting of a pump, a drive motor, piping networks, and system controls, should depend on energy cost considerations rather than on initial costs. 

LIGHTING
Fortunately, roughly half of the design-related losses can be reduced by retrofits and a relatively simple revamp of process controls. The most effective way to eliminate power loss in individual pumps is to operate each pump at the speed that exactly matches the minimum process flow and head requirements, represented by the system curve. This can only be done by varying operating speeds. 

Lighting power usage is generally driven by two factors: light fixtures/lamps, and lighting controls. LED bulbs provide good overall general lighting at lower power densities than fluorescent fixtures and result in an immediate reduction in energy consumption. Using task lighting at benches and work areas is another way to reduce energy consumption. Lighting controls should be used to dim lighting in areas with windows based on the daylight available and to shut off most lights when a room or space is unoccupied. Both methods can be used together to achieve additional lighting power savings compared to conventional approaches.

IN CONCLUSION

The cost to manufacture and distribute pharmaceutical products will continue to increase in step with the ever-rising cost of energy. Changing how energy is managed across an organization can improve process efficiency, product quality, production rates, and achieve cost savings of up to 30%. Once optimum energy efficiency is achieved, pharma manufacturers should evaluate renewable energy solutions to further reduce costs.

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