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Improving a Laundry Plant’s Water and Energy Efficiency

When operating a small or large laundry, deciding to utilize environmentally friendly practices can allow management to lower operating costs while effectively lowering the company’s energy footprint. Environmentally friendly options today often do not require significant capital investment to improve the performance of equipment.

 

Environmentally friendly options today often do not require significant capital investment to improve the performance of equipment.

 

It’s like driving an older car. If a car’s owner keeps the engine tuned, changes the oil regularly and maintains proper air pressure in the tires, it will perform better. Once the cost of maintaining the older vehicle becomes cost negative, it is time to upgrade to a new more efficient vehicle to save money and operating costs over the long term. This is similar to the decision to invest in environmentally friendly options for laundry equipment—rarely will a 20-year-old washer or dryer be as efficient as a new one.

 

Evaluating a plant’s energy and water efficiency is key to improving operations’ bottom line. Plants often attempt to start with some type of new or modern energy saving system or device, but most plants would benefit by starting with a basic approach to conservation efforts in order to reach their goals.

 

Proper Load Sizes

Load size is the one area that can have the biggest impact with zero added capital costs. By underloading a washers’ established weights, management is wasting water. When underloading, the space that would be occupied by soiled linen is replaced by water as the washer achieves its proper levels. Not only does this cause the washer to heat this additional water, but it will also slightly dilute the chemicals in the wash liqueur.

 

Maximizing washer capacity also translates to proper load sizes in dryers, which helps to reduce energy consumption. If laundry professionals operate a 150-pound tunnel washer and do not properly size loads, they could be losing 10-15% capacity per transfer. Multiply this by 30 transfers per hour for 16 hours per day on a seven-day operation, and they could lose upwards of 75,600-pounds per week of production capacity. That number should be enough to spur any team into action to improve load weights.

 

 

Measure/Measure/Measure

Operations should be monitoring the daily water, gas and electrical consumption every day. Often, taking a water meter measurement at the end and beginning of shifts will determine if there are any water leaks in the system. For example, one plant that started this process found that they were losing 8,000-10,000 gallons of water per night due to a valve leak. If the team was not measuring consumption, this water loss could have continued on for years.

 

Dryers

Dryers are a huge source of energy consumption and are rarely metered for gas consumption. For this reason, it is important to make sure a single dryer or a bank of them is continuing to perform to specifications.

 

For example, if one large dryer is utilizing 40 percent more energy drying items, this issue should be addressed through reprogramming the dryer formulas, possibly repairing the dryer burner or, if it is an older unit, replacing the dryer with a more efficient unit. Without meters, it is not possible to know the individual performance of the equipment.

 

Maintenance

Proper maintenance of equipment is key to lowering energy costs and water consumption. The improper functioning of water or drain valves can waste a lot of water, and gas trains or flame cones that are not properly maintained can waste natural gas or steam.

 

 

Furthermore, poorly maintained steam traps can lead to lower chest temperatures and higher energy costs. For this reason, too high or too low a water temperature in hot and tempered water tanks can result in additional steam consumption to bring the washer up to temperature. Taking water from just over 200 degrees Fahrenheit to steam requires almost nine times the energy to flash that water to steam.

 

Energy Efficient Equipment

There is no chance a 20-year-old dryer will be as efficient as a new one built today. In today’s machines, they are able to utilize infrared that determines the dryness of a load, include more efficient burners and support better software for improved energy consumption. Furthermore, there are machines that have wastewater heat recovery, which is able to capture the waste heat of water going down the drain to improve energy efficiency. Also, the effective utilization of stack economizers in modern machines can pre-heat incoming water with boiler stack gases in order to improve energy consumption as well, further supporting an energy efficient system.

 

Water recycling systems can also help to reduce water consumption by re-using water in the wash process. By converting from washer extractor systems to tunnel washers, it is possible to obtain a two-thirds or greater reduction in water usage.

 

Facing the Bottom Line

In summary, when reducing water and energy consumption, there is no one magic bullet. It takes a consistent approach of monitoring usage, maintaining equipment and, in many cases, investing in new technology in order to see a return on investment. Often when speaking to laundry managers, I’ve learned that they may evaluate their energy usage by the cost of the utility bill. This is not always the most effective way to gauge actual usage.

 

 

Eight to ten years ago natural gas was priced at $1.20-$1.30/therm, while in 2019 prices are $.26-.29. Although the bill may be lower, consumption may not have improved simultaneously. The lower price of natural gas lengthens the return on investment on a conservation project, but prices never stay low forever. Water and sewer rates continue to climb as municipalities improve or expand their treatment facilities and water shortages in western states continue to grow.

 

In the end, we all want to be green, but the most important form of green is what can be found in a company’s wallet. Through careful planning, the improvement of a plant’s water and energy efficiency can make that green grow.

 

By Keith Ware, Vice President of Sales, Lavatec Laundry Technology Inc.