This week, Jim Thompson wrote on a subject that consumed my working life for many years - energy costs. Our mill had tried many "way out" ideas in an effort to reduce the cost of energy. These included burning petroleum coke, reclaimed oil, railroad ties, and of course coal, bark, sawdust, and even farm wastes.
One of the main impediments to any of these was transportation. If anything had to be trucked over 100 miles, give or take, the hauling costs became prohibitive. Of course we had rail service, but most paper mills do not have rail unloading facilities for all these types of material never mind the properly designed rail car to haul them.
The second hindrance was volume. If you are associated with the paper business, you know that everything in a paper mill is big. Boilers are big; lime kilns are big; chip piles are big, etc. With big equipment comes big volume. If we use something, we use a lot of it because we're making tons of final product every working day; 20 million gallons of cooling water a day; purchased electricity exceeding $15,000 a day; well you get the picture.
So your spies out there find a new source of energy that could save millions a year. Only problems are can we get it to the mill, can we use it efficiently, and is there enough of it available to put a dent in the energy budget?
Many of the significant energy savings products we tried were what I call local. This means we had a new energy source that could be transported and used effectively, but it was only available in our area and so not applicable to another location like Shreveport or Savannah. From this point the obvious conclusion is that someone has to have their ear to the ground at your location. You can't rely 100% on the corporate staff to find new innovations for you (assuming you have a corporate staff).
Hmmm, now there's a problem. Who can have their ear to the ground ... at the mill ... that knows costs and operations too ... that can recognize a valuable energy commodity when they see it ... and has the time and motivation to keep looking?
Well, you have to answer that question. I know what we did and I'm not telling! Besides the major players have since retired. But I guarantee if you develop an effective team, it is worth the effort, to the point of saving those millions a year.
Gene Canavan is a retired West Point Graduate and Paper Mill Utilities Manager and lives in Prattville, Alabama, USA.