Sustainability in the manufacturing industry: a matter of networks

According to Eric Delforge, if the Belgian manufacturing industry wants to take decisive steps in the field of energy sustainability, the time has come to create better networks. Mayakawa Europe’s division leader explains how we can decarbonise as well as save energy by deploying smart thermal systems using heat pumps.

En 2011, le Conseil européen avait approuvé l’objectif de l’UE consistant à réduire de 80 à 95 % les émissions de gaz à effet de serre d’ici 2050 par rapport aux niveaux de 1990. Les États membres avaient aussi défini quelques étapes intermédiaires : -20 % d’ici 2020, -40 % d’ici 2030 et -60 % d’ici 2040. Cet engagement a un goût amer pour l’industrie manufacturière puisque celle-ci travaille encore souvent avec des installations datant des années 60, 70 et 80. Selon Eric Delforge, de Mayakawa Europe, le secret réside dans les réseaux intelligents :

In 2011, the European Council endorsed the EU target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% up to 95% by 2050 compared with 1990 levels. Member States also established several interim milestones: 20% by 2020, 40% by 2030 and 60% by 2040. For the manufacturing industry, this commitment represents a tough challenge, because production facilities from the 1960s, 70s and 80s are often still in use. According to Eric Delforge of Mayakawa Europe, the key is in smart networks:

A future without fossil fuels: utopia or reality?

Eric Delforge: “The government’s goals are ambitious, but there is no alternative. And we are committed to promoting sustainability. Just imagine the competitive edge Belgium can gain if we emerge as ecological pioneers.

So far, the government has not imposed any additional obligations or new measures. This means that each of us has sufficient freedom to make new technological choices. Something that will require a huge time commitment from us, so we’d better get started right away.”

Can the manufacturing industry differentiate itself in the coming years?

Eric Delforge: “The heat pump, especially, plays a key role in decarbonising the industry. Obviously, we do require electricity to keep heat pumps operational. At present, we cannot power all of them with renewable energy, but a machine built now will easily last 20 to 30 years. It is therefore possible for 100% of heat pumps to run on renewable energy in the long term, since the industry may well be powered solely by green energy in two decades from now.

But curbing our carbon dependence goes beyond that. We must also think differently and find smarter ways to use energy. Thermal couplings, for example, are the solution to achieve the 2050 targets even faster. Refrigeration systems and heat pumps operate on the same principle: refrigeration equipment always releases heat and a heat pump cools its heat source. So, wherever there is cooling, heating also occurs, and vice versa. Suppose you have an installation to cool 500 kilowatts. And, for example, you need 100 kilowatts to keep it working; then the installation produces 600 kilowatts of excess heat. In other words, it’s just a matter of linking together heat-releasing and cooling industrial activities. This allows you to cool 500 kilowatts with 100 kilowatts of electricity and heat 600 kilowatts. In economic terms, a huge profit.”

What do you think is the best action plan?

Eric Delforge: “It’s no longer about individual companies deciding to act sustainably. Together, we need to start thinking about communities that will exchange energy over heating networks. We therefore need to think in terms of integration: together we will aim to strike an energy balance. And such a network need not be limited to industry: it goes without saying that links to residential units should also be planned in the future.

This kind of ecological thinking needs to become a second nature: we must ensure our engineers, architects and technicians are immersed in this new mindset from the very start, in the classroom. After all, this is a win-win for everyone. Fortunately, in Belgium we have enough people who are capable of looking beyond the boundaries of their craft. What we lack in raw materials, we make up for in brains.”

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