Optimizing the Energy Efficiency of Research and Manufacturing Processes

May 16, 2012
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 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 CHPOne 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 powerIn 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. 
Biogen Idec’s CHP plantTaking a Closer Look at the Benefits of District EnergyWhere pharmaceutical facilities create district energy networks to meet the energy requirements of their campuses, or can leverage existing district energy network infrastructure, there are a number of benefits realized, including:
  • Reliability: Like CHP installations, district energy is known for its extremely high reliability, which is important to every business, but critical to those that require specialized environmental controls such as clean rooms and sanitary environments.  In these instances, downtime of heating and cooling systems can be catastrophic.  District energy systems have 24/7/365 monitoring of the central plants and the distribution network to ensure reliable operation.  Backup and redundancy are built into the networks to mitigate the risk of downtime or outage.
  • Reduced operating cost of utilizing existing networks: By utilizing an existing district energy network, high-pressure steam can be supplied to the facility without the need for on-site licensed staff.  In addition, separate insurance and maintenance costs on equipment and fuel procurement are eliminated at the facility.  

The CHP and district energy concepts are simple, but the potential benefits are significant.  As a heat source can also be used to drive absorption chillers, CHP plants can both heat or cool pharmaceutical research and manufacturing facilities.  Further, when a CHP plant serves as the central plant for a campus-wide district energy network, it becomes the primary source of both thermal and electrical energy for all of the facilities, and the electric grid, and emergency back-up equipment become the layers of back-up redundancy.  Energy reliability is therefore enhanced materially, and critical processes can run uninterrupted.

A Case Study: CHP in Action at the Campus of Biogen Idec

The world’s oldest independent biotechnology company, Biogen Idec uses cutting-edge science and medicine to discover, develop, and deliver innovative therapies that improve the lives of patients with neurodegenerative diseases, autoimmune diseases and hemophilia.  The company required a solution to increase the reliability of utility service at its campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  

In the mid-2000s, Biogen Idec’s Director of Facilities, Ed Dondero, commissioned an energy master plan and feasibility study to determine the most reliable energy solution for the Cambridge facility.  The solution developed was a new, on-site CHP plant to serve six buildings with electricity and five with high-pressure steam.  This plant was completed in 2006.  Today, the operation of the 5 megawatts (MW) of CHP capacity and 1 MW of back-up power capacity at Biogen Idec’s Cambridge campus provides energy for its entire thermal load and for the majority of its electric load.  At the same time, Biogen Idec continues to rely on the electric grid for a portion of its power needs, and the electric grid serves as a back-up source of power.  Furthermore, the local district energy network in Cambridge is the back-up source for Biogen Idec’s thermal energy.  In addition, Biogen Idec has the ability to obtain steam from the network, or sell its excess steam into the network for use by other customers. 

The implementation of an on-site CHP plant has provided Biogen Idec with a highly-reliable and cost effective means to provide energy across its campus.  The efficient operations and maintenance of the CHP plant has also enabled Biogen Idec to implement additional conservation projects that have enhanced the value of its investment.  As a result of this project, Biogen Idec has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 36,000 metric tons per year and the CHP plant paid for itself with energy savings after being in service for four years. 

Biogen Idec has also implemented incremental improvements to enhance its on-site energy infrastructure.  The Cambridge facility relies upon an air-handling unit to condition and circulate air as part of a heating, ventilating and air-conditioning (HVAC) system.  In 2010, Biogen Idec replaced the existing air handler mechanicals, which relied on two fans, with a modular array of ten new, small fans.   The new system delivers the same performance while using 55 percent less electricity.  Furthermore, if one fan fails, it can quickly be replaced without affecting operations, and the unit can run smoothly on eight of the ten fans, thereby reducing the impact to operations from a single fan failure.

Biogen Idec’s Commitment to Sustainability

The CHP plant at Biogen Idec’s corporate campus in Cambridge, Mass. underscores the company’s commitment to sustainably across its organization.  Biogen Idec believes that operating in a sustainable manner is both good for the environment and for business, through helping to increase efficiency.  The company established a Corporate Sustainability Council to ensure that the company remains committed to reducing our impacts on the environment over the long term.  Comprised of senior leaders within the organization, the Council has set a five-year sustainability strategy and approved key initiatives to support these goals.  Many of these initiatives are already underway including the formalization of the green chemistry program, improving the efficiency of the fleet, developing supply chain sustainability performance criteria and the establishing of environmental targets.

Future Energy Strategy Opportunities for Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Managers and Facilities

Pharmaceutical manufacturing managers understand that many opportunities exist to increase energy reliability and energy efficiency, and are taking measures to optimize their energy consumption and to assess their options for electrical and thermal energy supply efficiency.  Thus, many facilities are considering the benefits of installing on-site CHP plants.  

Looking toward the future and the opportunities for on-site generation in the pharmaceutical industry, CHP plants provide the benefits of cost control, risk mitigation, increased reliability, and a positive environmental impact.   CHP and district energy can provide increased energy reliability, greater fuel flexibility, market responsiveness, and the mitigation of lost products and research projects due to utility grid failures. 

Pharmaceutical research and manufacturing processes are costly enough to warrant a careful examination of the options available for maximizing reliability.  On-site CHP plants, and leveraging or installing district energy networks for energy distribution, represent energy-efficient solutions that can meet the critical requirements of the industry.  

About the Authors
Mel Palmer: As Business Development Director for Veolia Energy North America, Mr. Palmer is working to deliver energy efficient solutions to commercial and industrial customer, with a specific focus on the bio-pharmaceutical industry.  Mr. Palmer has over 20 years of experience in the Energy field.  Prior to joining Veolia Energy, he held positions as (i) Director of Utility Sales for SunEdison, where he developed grid connected solar projects in the Northeast and managed SunEdison’s US SREC positions (ii) Director level wholesale and retail sales and position management roles for Constellation, (iii) operations, regulatory, and wholesale origination roles for Mirant, and term trading and regulatory roles for Central Maine Power.  Mr. Palmer’s responsibilities throughout his career include negotiating structured financial and physical power contracts, managing ISO relations and bidding of physical plant assets into deregulated markets.   Mr. Palmer earned a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Business Administration (MBA)  degree from the University of Maine at Orono.

Ed Dondero: Mr. Dondero is Director of Real Estate & Planning, Biogen Idec. He has more than twenty years of experience in the biomedical field, having also worked at Tufts University and Shire Pharmaceuticals.  His responsibilities have included the management of small and large lab, office and manufacturing projects, energy management and the supervision of an operation and maintenance staff.   Presently, Mr. Dondero’sduties are the oversight and administration of global real estate and space planning functions.  He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Construction Management and a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree from Bentley College.

About the Author

Ed Dondero | Director of Real Estate & Planning