August 12, 2022

Green technologies that can drive sustainability in manufacturing

When environmental excellence is integrated with business strategy, both business and the environment benefit. Overall, companies that take the lead on environmental, social and governance (ESG) outperform financially, generating up to 2.6 times more value for stakeholders than their peers (Accenture research based on companies reporting more than $1billion in revenue across 6 countries).

Delivering on sustainability goals is impossible without green technologies. It is important for businesses to identify technologies that help achieve sustainability goals.

With global production sectors responsible for one-fifth of carbon emissions – consuming 54% of the world’s energy sources – there is an urgent need for manufacturing companies to address the challenges of decarbonization (Source: World Economic Forum).

Green technologies encompass evolving methodologies, materials and techniques pertaining to clean energy, waste recycling and more to prevent climate change. By adopting these, the manufacturing sector can drive lean production, reduce emissions, and contribute to climate action.

Here are some exciting green technologies that can help the manufacturing sector contribute to a sustainable planet:

1. Renewable energy and storage

Manufacturers need large amounts of energy on a continuous basis to run operations. To go green, manufacturers can explore adopting renewable energy such as solar power, wind energy and energy from biomass.

Consider the example of Greenam Energy, an AM International group company with a focus on new-age green and sustainable technology and SPIC, a pioneer in the fertilizer industry. Greenam Energy’s floating solar power plant is located within SPIC’s premises. It helps generate green power in a captive manner. SPIC uses the energy to run plant operations and also sells excess power to the state grid, thereby increasing the usage of renewable power.

Factories can use renewable energy more effectively if there are reliable storage and distribution methods. Energy storage systems can be game-changing as they can store energy for later use and enhance grid resilience by balancing the demand and supply of electricity.

Some of the latest innovations include –

  • Flow batteries that follow a liquid design. The electrolyte, the medium for the electric charge to flow, and the electrode are liquids. This results in super-fast charging and the potential to develop huge batteries making large-scale energy storage possible.
  • Molten salt storage – This technology ensures that sunshine is concentrated onto a tower by a field of mirrors and heats tonnes of salt inside the tower at very high temperatures until it melts. This molten salt can then be used to generate steam or run a generator.

2. Waste to energy solutions

Manufacturing companies can tackle industrial waste by generating energy and other useful products from effluents. For example, Manali Petrochemicals Limited has a Vapor Absorption Machine that produces chilled water from heat sources as well as waste and uses it in operations.

Some of the ground-breaking technologies in this space include –

  • Plasma gasification, which is a process that heats waste to extremely high temperatures and breaks it down into hydrogen and carbon products. It prevents toxic waste emissions and generates hydrogen, which can be used to generate electricity. The other by-products can be used in production processes.
  • Generation of electricity from wastewater is another alternative. Researchers have used microbial fuel cells and reverse electrodialysis to produce electricity and treat the water to make it usable. When scaled up, this technology can match the demands of a manufacturing facility.

3. AI for tracking carbon footprint

Manufacturing companies can leverage the power of Artificial Intelligence (AI) solutions to track emissions, understand their effect, derive insights and create solutions to become environmentally friendly.

Today, manufacturing operations can have digital twins integrating Internet of Things (IoT) making data collection simple. The data can be used to set science-based targets for emissions. This can help throw light on emission hotspots, and manufacturing companies can make intelligent decisions on how and where to reduce emissions. The data can also help in the following:

  • Adjust lighting levels according to the production schedule
  • Identify energy wasting leaks that the production managers can plug
  • Gain insights on yield losses like reduced speed & planned stoppages and rectify them by implementing data-driven maintenance methods.

4. Green architecture

Green architecture is building infrastructure that is sustainable. This entails improving the energy efficiency of a building, reducing pollution in construction and renovation and limiting disruption to the water cycle. The concept is increasingly gaining traction. Here are a few examples:

  • Building infrastructure that is self-fuelling such as availability of natural light and air circulation and recycling grey water (water released from air conditioning systems or manufacturing equipment) to use for non-potable purposes like irrigation and sanitation.
  • Using fabric structures for construction. These are alternatives to brick and mortar. They can be air supported structures or pre-engineered frame structures. They are energy- and cost-efficient.

At the end, balancing the bottom line with sustainability is imperative for every organization. With the emergence of innovative green technologies, the manufacturing sector can make its products, services and operations environmentally friendly and achieve this balance.