How the Chemical Industry Can Become More Eco-Friendly
When the topic of the chemical industry pops up in a conversation about the environment, let’s be honest — most likely, it’s not because it is very eco-friendly. With climate change making its way to breaking news almost daily, it is evident that we need to reduce the impact we have on our planet.
Finding inventive and effective ways to lessen the carbon footprint is a major focus of many industries. However, the chemical industry is where it all becomes more difficult. This is why they have a spotlight on finding creative ways to make the manufacturing process more sustainable and eco-conscious.
And while this industry earned its reputation for how it affects our environment, there are several ways the chemical industry is pursuing more environmentally friendly processes and procedures.
Ways the Chemical Industry Impacts the Environment
The first step in understanding how to be more eco-friendly is to be aware of the chemical industry’s weak spots and challenges. Once we know the most prominent areas for improvement, we can start redefining and creating safer manufacturing procedures.
A chemical manufacturing company’s long-term profitability depends on pollution management, environmental habitat preservation, and wildlife species conservation. However, they must overcome several ecological obstacles to accomplish these goals.
These issues require solutions that are both cost-effective and feasible in the long term. It is possible for chemical producers to achieve their high production goals while also minimizing their environmental effects.
Before we get to that, here are a few of the environmental issues that the chemical sector is now dealing with.
Even the seemingly clean and benign steam that the manufacturing process produces carries a risk of reacting with oxygen and sulfur dioxide from the air, creating what is known as sulphuric acid rain. Not to mention producing contaminants such as nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide, which are well-known challenges the chemical industry must improve on.
Accidental spills of chemical goods, oil, and fuel from chemical plants threaten soil pollution. When trucks carry goods to and from the plant, there is a chance that oil and fuel may accidentally seep into the soil.
The hazardous chemicals stored in old chemical tank farms may also pollute the Earth. It’s why there are strict regulations when it comes to the disposal of hazardous waste.
Chemical plants generate a variety of waste materials, including solids, liquids, and gases. If it’s not done correctly, unsafe waste disposal can be hazardous to the environment, including water supplies, air, animal habitats, and even people.
Depending on the kind of industrial waste generated from a factory, the procedures and regulations will differ.
On the other hand, hazardous waste items must be handled with extra care and must be disposed of in properly permitted landfill sites only.
You can’t meet the demands of the market without increasing the use of energy. And this need for high amounts of power is a big challenge that chemical manufacturing companies face.
While they may not be able to reduce the amount of energy needed, there is considerable opportunity for alternatives when it comes to the source of that energy, as we’ll discuss it further down the text.
In comparison to other challenges, this one seems relatively minor. And while it doesn’t pose a significant threat to our environment, it does affect humans living nearby.
Noise pollution is often caused by the equipment and vehicles used by chemical factories. Because of that, new manufacturing facilities must not be located near residential areas.
Depletion of Natural Resources
Chemical production companies rely on nonrenewable precursors and ingredients, including materials such as hydrocarbons, metals, and minerals.
These raw materials can only be mined, and they can’t be mass-produced in a lab. It means that for manufacturing plants to produce chemicals, they must rely on non-renewable resources.
To help the world transition to a more sustainable future, the chemical industry must find ways to use these resources more efficiently.
5 Ways the Chemical Industry Can Become More Eco-Friendly
While some of the previously mentioned issues are unavoidable and may only be handled to a certain degree, others can be entirely solved. The main obstacle is the considerable financial effort and commitment to technological advancements, which is why it’s difficult for chemical companies to balance out the market demand with their potential impact on the environment.
However, even though it is difficult, it’s possible. Getting more green doesn’t always require cutting-edge technology and large-scale financial investments — in some cases, it means going back to basics.
There are two courses of action that chemical manufacturers can take when it comes to upgrading their processes. One option is to create alternative manufacturing techniques and procedures that minimize hazardous by-products. Second, any by-products may be utilized or repurposed rather than being discarded. It has benefits for both the environment and the company’s financial state.
Companies can also use automation to bring industrial processes up to date. With technological advancement, we see the use of industrial robots and automation machinery across all manufacturing industries. For example, a simple switch to robotic tank cleaning instead of continuing with old-fashioned manual ways will have tremendous benefits for water usage, waste generation, and workers’ safety. Many companies still have doubts about utilizing robotic equipment, as it hasn’t reached widespread adoption yet, but the environmental, safety, and financial benefits are strongly evident.
Related article: Robots vs. Humans: Which is Safer for Tank Cleaning?
When it comes to organic molecules, sophisticated procedures are needed to synthesize the materials, and these procedures can’t always be automated. But automating even a few industrial operations will have a significant effect on environmental sustainability. Automation also saves on costs by facilitating better efficiency, accuracy, and output.
Strive for Zero Waste
While many individuals are doing their best to cut down on waste, large industries are driving the majority of the world’s generated waste. And all that trash needs space on the ball we call home.
Even though it’s vast, Earth is still not endless.
Did you know that roughly 43.9 million tons of commercial and industrial waste are produced yearly in the UK, according to official estimates from 2018? 85% of that garbage originates in England. Only a year later, that number jumped to 45.9 million tons of trash in landfills.
Zero-waste, or at least near-zero-waste, should be the goal for the chemical industry, as in the future, numbers will only skyrocket. Of course, zero waste doesn’t mean that a plant can’t produce any waste at all. But the by-products it creates should all be reusable and recyclable so that no trash ends up in already full landfills.
That could be achieved by reusing the majority of generated waste.
It means recycling any recyclable material, composting organic waste, minimizing the use of plastic, and investing in high-quality technological and electronic devices that will serve a long time.
Conserve Water and Utilize Resources
Water, after air, is our most precious resource. Only 1.2% of Earth’s freshwater is drinkable, making water conservation a priority for all industries.
Water is used by industries as a coolant, solvent, reagent, cleaning liquid, and as a significant ingredient in many products. The scarcity of water, along with its necessity in chemical production, should be a motivation for chemical companies to conserve it.
There are many water-efficiency programs that can help companies save money on water purchases, treatment, and disposal. Chemical companies can start by conducting a water analysis and comparing their findings to industry standards to identify areas for improvement. These include decreasing water flow, upgrading or replacing equipment, and utilizing air-cooled rather than water-cooled equipment. Robotic tank cleaning uses far less water than conventional tank cleaning methods.
Use Renewable Energy
Incorporating more renewable energy and sticking to regulated and controlled procedures that use less electricity can be beneficial from financial and environmental perspectives.
Companies can build on-site renewable energy sources, utilizing the power of wind, water, or solar energy. Chemical producers should also research the tax benefits of constructing their own renewable grid-tied energy source.
Collected energy can later be used to power computers, electronic devices, lights, and maybe even some equipment, reducing the overall power usage.
Not every factory will have this option, either due to space or cost. In that case, they can still reduce power consumption by getting energy supplies from large power plants that depend on power from renewable sources like geothermal, wind, solar, or hydroelectric energy.
Use Environmentally Friendly Products
Sometimes, the solution to becoming greener hides in the smallest of details. Take lightbulbs, for example. LED lights save up to 80% more energy than incandescent bulbs and may reduce greenhouse gas emissions by half a ton. LED lights also last approximately 25 times longer than regular bulbs and don’t emit nor contain mercury.
Going greener and reducing carbon footprints, in this case, also means saving the company money. It’s a straightforward solution, yet many manufacturing facilities overlook it.
Alongside eco-friendly lighting, another thing to consider is heating and air conditioning. Large industrial plants’ HVAC systems are often out-of-date and inefficient. Inverter-based central air conditions and intelligent thermostats are two examples of environmentally efficient HVAC systems.
For manufacturing facilities that have high ceilings, destratification fans are a good option. They disperse heat uniformly throughout the entire plant, reducing gas usage by up to 20% and, therefore, reducing the plant’s carbon footprint.
As an alternative to typical gas-powered heating systems, a chemical company should consider investing in biomass and solar panel heating systems that are more environmentally friendly. These systems can either replace or complement their current heating system.
How Can You Help Your Chemical Plant Strive for Eco-Friendliness?
We are at a turning point in history and we need environmentally friendly chemical production facilities to help preserve our planet’s limited natural resources.
Good for us (and the chemical industry), there are many ways to make your plant more eco-friendly. While going back to basics is the first step of reducing carbon footprint, industrial robots are rising to ensure a greener future. Learn about the other ways robots are helping to protect the environment from hazardous chemicals.
And although becoming green takes an initial investment, the reduced long-term costs, overall efficiency, and environmental advantages easily outweigh it.