Energy. Green. Sustainable. Energy Independence. Carbon footprint. Climate Change. Greenhouse gases.
The previous terms have been brought to you by the educational system and the media. We’ve all heard them over, and over, and over. So let’s have a rational discussion. Perhaps as mere mortals we can, in fact, affect positive change. But what IS positive change? There is energy in everything we do, consume and utilize.
We require energy to breath, to walk, to think and to do any function we perform. It takes a lot of energy to heat us, cool us, feed us, water us and transport us. We’ve heard that we need to have a smaller carbon footprint. What the heck!? ….we ARE a carbon footprint. All organic matter: humans, animals, plants are made of various carbon molecules and water.
We’ve been told that CO2 is a “greenhouse gas” that settles into our upper atmosphere and reflects heat back to the earth causing climate change. Although millions of years ago CO2 was higher than it is now, CO2 content in the earth’s lower atmosphere is higher now than it is has been in thousands of years leading some to conclude that humans are to blame…..but then what’s with the much higher CO2 millions of years ago? Who caused that? And what happens if CO2 goes to zero? What we used to learn in school is that plants take in water, carbon-based nutrients from the soil, CO2 and sunshine to make cellulose and grow…..and give off oxygen. If CO2 in the earth’s atmosphere were to go to zero all plant life on earth would quickly perish, and so would we.
At a recent Western Energy Alliance conference in Colorado author Robert Bryce, Senior Fellow at the Center for Energy Policy and Environment at the Manhattan Institute, cited statistics that world-wide energy consumption in 2010 increased 28% to the equivalent of 210 million barrels of oil per day, 87% of that from hydrocarbons (oil, coal, natural gas and their derivatives). That’s a LOT of CO2 being produced by burning hydrocarbons.
I could be a little cynical here and say that perhaps we should just plant a bunch of trees….which would grow like weeds in the CO2-rich environment and provide additional carbon-based fuel and useful cellulosic materials. But let’s just suppose that it’s a rational, sustainable solution that can’t POSSIBLY work. So what’s left? Conservation. What is conservation? It is doing the same amount of “stuff” with less energy or doing more stuff with the same amount of energy. In manufacturing it’s what we call increasing productivity…..producing more with the same or less…..less man-hours, less materials, less space…..all things that embody a certain amount of energy.
Speaking of sustainability, what about wind, solar and nuclear? Nuclear provides clean, efficient power…..and low-level nuclear waste that must be safely stored for thousands of years. Wind and solar power are conceived as sustainable but the reason they are so expensive is that they consume huge amounts of energy to produce the wind turbines and the solar panels. That up-front energy cost is the barrier to entry and in some cases their lifetime energy output never equals the energy input to build and maintain the devices. So, are these methods “sustainable”? We hope that engineers and scientists can make them so in the future.
Recent natural gas and oil finds in North America make the prospect of us becoming energy independent a near-term possibility. At a recent meeting of the Kentucky Oil and Gas Association, Brian Havacivch reminded the attendees that five years ago we expected to be importing large quantities of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and we capitalized facilities in the Gulf States to receive those imports. With the oil sands of Canada and fracking technology allowing us to reach huge fields of natural gas in the north-central and Appalachian regions of the US those facilities will be put to use soon but for EXPORTING instead of importing LNG. The current US natural gas price of about $4/MMBTU makes the export of LNG to Europe at $10/MMBTU or Korea at $12/MMBTU very desirable to producers. This same new upswing in, now accessible, reserves will keep the price of natural gas low for a long time going forward……but not forever.
So, this is all very good news for the US. We’ve got lots and lots of natural gas which produces less CO2 than coal or oil when burned. These reserves stand to make us energy independent. But in the end it brings us back around to us…..we consume the energy. We can argue about mankind’s effect on the climate but what we can agree on is that we need to continually increase our productivity and energy efficiency which, by definition, both require us to do more with less energy.
At Applied Process Inc. we are doing our part. As Austempering experts, a principal process of ours is Austempered Ductile Iron (ADI). ADI, with its high strength-to-weight ratio can replace steel or aluminum castings, weldments or forgings at equal mass. When you then add that ADI embodies far less energy per unit of mass than steel or aluminum technologies, ADI is a green alternative……and that’s just the material/process consideration.
Applied Process Inc. is committed to continually increasing productivity. In our fiscal year 2011 we increased our output per man-hour by nearly 11%, our output per furnace hour by nearly 6% and we reduced our energy consumption per unit sale by nearly 6%. These improvements did not happen by accident. They were the result of aggressive employee training, demanding internal quality systems, fervent preventive maintenance, focused capital expenditures and implementation of new technologies. Our customers, our stakeholders and our communities expect it, and AP is delivering.