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A Star Is Born - The Pharma Energy Star Program and How You Can Save on Your Utility Costs

Wed, 10/06/2010 - 12:15pm
Mike Auerbach, Editor In Chief

Being wise with your money is back in style. The recession with its attendant job losses, cut backs and uncertainties has made savers of us all. At no time in recent history have Americans put more into their savings accounts than during this recent economic downturn.
Turning off lights and being as energy efficient as possible is a great way to save money. And, if you are in the market for a new refrigerator, microwave oven or even a TV, the government has made it easier for you to figure out which products are the most energy efficient. All products that qualify under EPA guidelines as energy efficient are granted the right to proudly display the Energy Star label. Just look for one of those labels when shopping for your next big ticket purchase and you can rest assured that you will be saving money and helping the environment.
But what if you are in charge of energy efficiency at a pharmaceutical manufacturer and are tasked with saving money in your facility - or even across several facilities – where do you turn for help and advice? Fortunately, your government is here to help.

Energy Star For Pharma
Walt Tunnessen, the EPA’s National Program Manager for the Energy Star program has been working with pharmaceutical companies for the past 6 or 7 years putting together tools and guidelines for pharmaceutical facilities to better track and benchmark their energy usage. “We developed a guidebook and a benchmarking tool for pharmaceutical sites so they can compare themselves against other companies in their industry and against other industries.” To qualify for the Energy Star, a pharmaceutical site must benchmark its energy efficiency using the Energy Star Energy Performance Indicator (EPI). Sites that receive a top score from the EPI are then eligible for Energy Star recognition.
While some industries might have only one “type” of building to benchmark, pharmaceutical facilities can be difficult says Tunnessen. “Many companies have multi-functional campuses; R&D, warehouse, office space and manufacturing. Plus, on many campuses there is no sub-metering, so companies are not exactly sure where the energy is going. For better tracking, companies need better sub-metering.”
According to Tunnessen the biggest consumer of energy in pharmaceutical facilities is HVAC equipment, but he cautions, “Updating HVAC equipment in a pharmaceutical facility with the intention to make it more energy efficient can be very hard because it’s a validated component of the manufacturing process.” Tunnessen also mentions R&D and lab spaces as being very energy hungry areas of pharmaceutical facilities. “One fume hood in a lab can use as much energy as four homes.”
The EPA’s Energy Star program for pharmaceutical facilities is still developing. For example, there is currently no benchmarking tool for lab spaces as more data is needed. But, as Tunnessen says, it is very important to, “look at how the building works as a system, not by individual components,” and to “develop a whole building approach” to energy conservation.
Tunnessen says that big pharma has been very proactive in regards to analyzing their energy efficiency, because it is very important to project an energy efficient image to their customers. “Pharmaceutical companies discuss best practices with each other,” he says, “because they don’t compete on energy efficiency. Drug development? Yes. Energy efficiency? No.”

Going On A Treasure Hunt
So, if you are currently looking at ways to reduce your energy consumption, where do you start?
At Merck, the path to energy efficiency began with a global initiative in 2005. The company realized that many opportunities were available to reduce energy consumption and that those steps would impact its bottom line. And, according to Robert Colucci, Senior Director, Energy and Sustainability at Merck, there were other reasons. “As a company devoted to improving human global health we saw the impact energy usage and green house gas emissions have on the environment, and have on the people and communities we operate in, and felt compelled to do something.”
Merck began by doing a large project to baseline their energy usage at all their facilities. They developed a metric in terms of energy intensity based on how many millions of BTUs of energy were being used per square foot of facility space. They then gathered the data and identified the kinds of spaces that were using the largest amounts of energy and also broke it down by major users of energy such as HVAC, lighting or processing equipment. In Merck’s study, they identified HVAC as the largest consumer of energy at their facilities.
Colucci continues, “We then did facility specific projects to drill down further to identify projects we could do to save energy and reduce usage.”
One specific project that Colucci highly recommends is an energy “treasure hunt”. Colucci describes the treasure hunt as a Kaizen activity, first created by Toyota and further refined by GE. “Basically, we get a bunch of plant people together, its typically a two or three day session, walk out into the facility when its shutdown on nights or weekends, or when its coming up in the morning and during normal operation. These small squads of people walk around looking for wasted energy. They are looking for lights that are on, unattended computers, equipment on but not in use, leaks, any kind of energy waste. Teams are primed with what to look for.”
In fact, Merck recently finished a treasure hunt at its Las Piedras facility in Puerto Rico. According to Colucci the Las Piedras facility already had an excellent energy program in place and yet they were still able to identify areas to quickly make improvements. “It was an excellent success,” says Colucci. “We identified way more savings, more low-hanging fruit, than even our top projections. We identified in excess of 10% of the site's energy usage that we can save fairly quickly with either instantaneous projects or projects with a quick payback. I was really surprised.”

HVAC – Efficiency’s Enemy
With HVAC identified as the biggest energy hog in pharmaceutical facilities, new technologies and equipment are being developed to reduce energy usage and lower costs.
Hannah Granade, president of Advantix Systems USA, makers of DuCool Dehumidification and Cooling systems says that in her experience humidity management is one of the most important factors for pharmaceutical companies to deal with. “Humidity management is just as important, and in a lot of markets, more important than temperature management,” she says. “In the pharmaceutical industry, humidity can affect process throughput and the quality of the end product. When a facility is overly humid it’s very hard to get a product to set – a fundamental concern.”
For humidity removal, Advantix has developed a system that uses a dissolved desiccant substance which includes a very concentrated dissolved salt. The system absorbs moisture from the air by passing it over this cold desiccant solution. The system is very effective at taking out moisture in the air while using much less energy than other dehumidification systems.
In addition to producing low humidity air, the system produces much cleaner air as well – the salt solution scrubs out particles and kills bacteria – an important benefit for pharmaceutical facilities.
As far as reducing energy efficiency in other ways, Granade suggest finding improvements that are non-intrusive. “Before you start tearing apart your building, do something that is relatively simple and easy to change out.”
Other areas to look for improvements are lighting. “Lighting is very simple, go in and swap out lighting. Changing out lighting or testing our equipment is very simple and won’t interfere with the core processes of the building. Find quick and easy savings like HVAC and lighting.”

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