While U.S. manufacturers currently are enjoying lower natural gas prices than they have seen in a long while, no company has energy to burn -- particularly producers that operate in energy-intensive industries such as steelmaking.
That reality explains why ArcelorMittal in November cohosted with Alcoa an energy-efficiency training program at their Cleveland, Ohio, plants as part of the U.S. Department of Energy's Better Plants program. As part of that program the steelmaker also committed to reducing energy intensity across its U.S. plants by 10% in 10 years.
It's no easy feat. ArcelorMittal has been engaged in serious energy management initiatives long enough to have taken big bites out of low-hanging fruit. Indeed, the company has received six Energy Star awards from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for its efforts, most recently in 2013. Moreover, a primary driver of its energy intensity is its blast furnace operations ("Turning iron ore into molten iron takes a lot of energy," says ArcelorMittal's Larry Fabina), which Fabina says already are very efficient.
Nevertheless, significant opportunities remain, says Fabina, who is ArcelorMittal USA's energy champion. As such, he coordinates energy-reduction efforts across the U.S. facilities, as well as a few outside the country. He describes his role, in part, as "keeping [energy] on the burner and not get it put into the oven."
He leads a team of plant-level energy champions and energy teams who meet monthly to discuss energy-management opportunities.
Technology has played, and will continue to play, a large role in the company's energy-management initiatives. That's particularly true as new products are introduced and existing technologies both improve and come down in price, Fabina says. He points to variable frequency drives as one example. Many have been installed at ArcelorMittal in the name of better energy performance.
"It's an excellent way to save energy through technology," Fabina says.
On a grander technology-driven scale, he describes the recent completion of a boiler project at ArcelorMittal's Indiana Harbor steel mill to capture and reuse the 22% of blast furnace gas per year that was wasted when it was ignited and exhausted into the atmosphere. Partly funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the $63 million project has transformed that waste into steam used to generate electricity. Moreover, it is estimated to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 340,000 tons per year.
The flip side of better energy management via technology is better energy management through improved processes and employee participation. It is yet another area of focus for ArcelorMittal, says Fabina, who also serves as manager of continuous improvement at the manufacturer's Burns Harbor, Ind., operations.
"Sometimes saving energy is not really an energy project," he says. "It's increasing plant yield where you make it right the first time, which ends up reducing rework and scrap. Every time we produce a piece of steel that is not exactly right, it costs us energy, either by redoing it, remaking it or reshaping it."
There's also significant cost to using energy for no purpose. As such, ArcelorMittal aims to sharpen its focus on using only the energy required to get the job done.
Fabina describes a multiyear project at an ArcelorMittal facility in Pennsylvania that saved more than $1 million in energy costs in just that fashion. "We had a fellow there who was interested and looked at the opportunity," Fabina says. "Piece by piece … he took a look at the operations and said, 'Do we really require this to run now?'"
"I think a lot of industries have opportunity here, where equipment, motors, lights, pumps, you name it, run when they are not needed or required for the operation."
Much of Fabina's energy conversation begins and ends with opportunity, including the opportunity for every employee to contribute to energy-reduction efforts.
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"As soon as you shut down a computer or turn off a light -- no matter how small it is -- that meter just slowed down," he says. "As soon as you slow down that meter, those savings go right to the bottom line. There's no in-between."