Optimizing the Energy Efficiency of Research and Manufacturing Processes

Pharmaceutical plant managers are taking a more sophisticated approach when it comes to energy management by examining everything from alternative fuel and energy supply options to demand response, reliability, and on-site generation.

By Ed Dondero, Director of Real Estate & Planning, Biogen Idec, and Mel Palmer, Business Development Director, Veolia Energy North America

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In recent years, one of the core managerial goals for pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities around the globe has been to build more sustainable manufacturing processes.  One of the biggest challenges for the pharmaceutical industry is implementing highly-reliable energy solutions at their research and manufacturing facilities that not only support sustainability goals, but also improve competitiveness by reducing costs, reducing energy price volatility, and providing other value-added benefits to the manufacturing process. 

In light of this challenge, pharmaceutical plant managers are taking a more sophisticated approach when it comes to energy management by examining everything from alternative fuel and energy supply options to demand response, reliability, and on-site generation.  In looking at the many energy management strategies available, it is important to analyze the manufacturing process itself, and to seek energy solutions that will complement operations.  For pharmaceutical manufacturing, there are three operational aspects that should be considered in an energy strategy:

1.    Equipment and processes that require thermal energy, such as reactors, digesters, and sterilizers;
2.    Managing electrical production and distribution to most efficiently meet operational needs; and
3.    Delivering compressed air for production. 

Overview of Energy Requirements for Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Facilities

In taking a closer look at the energy requirements for a pharmaceutical manufacturing facility, we can see that there are a range of needs involved in different parts of the process.  In broad terms, these requirements can be thought of as thermal, pneumatic and electrical and they apply to the manufacturing process in the following ways:

  • Process thermal energy: Input of heat via high quality fluids in reactors, fermenters, and mixers.
  • Process chilling: For product cooling, preservation, cooling production tanks, and cleaning stations.
  • Compressed air: For process controls, pressurization of process tanks, etc.
  • Vacuum: For suction intake of materials in the process, or packaging.
  • Electricity: Reliable electricity to supply machines, instrumentation, control systems, and measurement equipment.

Laboratories, R&D centers and animal supply facilities may be summarized into the following categories:

  • Air treatment: For fume chambers, isolators, and cleanrooms.
  • Temperature control:  For occupant comfort and protection of state-of-the-art equipment.
  • Electricity: Free of any power failures for operating precision equipment (measurements, controls).
  • Heating and cooling: Particularly for pure water loops.

Multiple Process Requirements Met By One Solution: On-Site CHP

One solution that addresses all three of these operational considerations is an approach that utilizes cogeneration, or combined heat and power (CHP).  CHP plants produce both electricity and thermal energy simultaneously, which can be used for heating, cooling, and for the production of high-pressure, process steam.  CHP technology is currently experiencing a revival in pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities because of the operational benefits it can provide, as well as its mitigation of energy price volatility and greenhouse gas emissions.

Today, in most instances, power and heat are generated separately.  Electric power is generated by a remote power plant and is transmitted to end-use customers through the electric grid.  To meet heating or cooling requirements, facilities often install boilers and chillers in their buildings, but thermal and electrical energy may be generated more efficiently (i.e., consume less fuel) when produced together.  Typically, when power and heat are produced separately, roughly 50 percent of the fuel consumed is converted into useful energy, while the remainder is expelled as waste heat. 

                                             CHP versus separate production of heat and power

In contrast, CHP recycles the waste heat and can convert 85 percent of the fuel to useful energy.  Therefore, significantly less fuel is consumed when heat and power are produced simultaneously, which also results in a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.  By utilizing CHP, the waste heat generated during the power production process can be captured, recycled, and used for process applications without the need for boilers within each building.

Taking a Closer Look at the Benefits of CHP or Cogeneration

  • Reliability:  CHP improves reliability by on-site generation serving as a primary source of energy.  When CHP is part of a facility’s energy infrastructure, the risks associated with brownouts, blackouts, or damage to the poles and wires of the local utility’s electric grid are mitigated. 
  • Cost Savings:  Economic savings are another important benefit of CHP.  Because CHP can supplement or substitute for traditional utility electric supply, a great deal of energy cost can be avoided.  Properly designed CHP systems are capable of delivering a combination of power, heating, and/or cooling at a favorable price.  For example, CHP can eliminate the need, and the cost associated with, redundant utility electric feeds to a facility.
  • Environmental Impact:  Greenhouse gas reduction and other sustainability initiatives are becoming a core managerial focus for many pharmaceutical companies.  CHP is a “green” energy initiative (by virtue of its ability to significantly lower the volume of fossil fuels consumed) that pharmaceutical companies can implement as a complement to their core business.  In the same way that it reduces fuel costs, CHP reduces pollution by displacing less efficient grid electrical generation.  The efficiency gains of CHP coupled with a high availability (typically available more than 90 percent of the time) permit a significant reduction in the carbon footprint of a facility. 
  • Fuel Diversity:  CHP plants may be designed for input of multiple sources of fuel.  Not only do they require lower volumes of fossil fuels to produce useful energy, but they can be designed to run on renewable fuels such as biomass or biogas.  In some cases, a pharmaceutical facility may produce byproducts that could serve as the fuel.  This multi-fuel ability increases energy security and can also mitigate volatility in fuel commodity prices. 


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