March 28, 2005

Energy Efficiency Awards showcase Canadian industry leadership in cutting fuel consumption, GHG emissions

The best and brightest advances in energy efficiency across Canada were honoured at the March 18 presentation of Canada's Energy Efficiency Awards in Ottawa. The annual awards, presented by Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), recognize achievements by Canadian businesses, industry, institutions, governments, communities and individuals. They also serve to raise awareness of energy efficiency as a key part of Canada's response to climate change.

The 14 winners and 14 honourable mentions successfully implemented energy-efficiency measures leading to reductions of thousands of tonnes of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and hundreds of thousands of dollars in energy savings.

The awards program is managed by NRCan's Office of Energy Efficiency. A selection of 2005 winners in the industry and equipment/technology categories follows. (A full list may be viewed on the awards program Web site,


ConocoPhillips Canada was one of two award winners in the sub-category of Energy Production and Transmission Projects, for its Empress CO2 extraction plant. A team of employees at ConocoPhillips' natural gas processing facility in Empress, Alberta recognized the potential energy savings in extracting carbon dioxide (CO2) from a stream of waste gas, liquefying it and selling it to industrial users.

The waste gas, containing CO2 and small amounts of sulfur-related gases, was previously incinerated. Once the extraction plant was opened, the incinerator was shut down in 2004. The project is saving about 75,000 gigajoules of energy and is eliminating about 62,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions each year and about 50 tonnes of sulfur emissions. Odours and noise are also drastically reduced.

"It's a three-way win. We reduce our environmental impact, turn a waste stream into revenue by selling it to Ferus Gas, and they in turn sell it to their customers," explained Victor Standish, asset manager at the Empress plant. "We save between $300,000 and $500,000 a year in fuel for the incinerator and we sell the waste gas."

The extracted CO2 is liquefied and pumped into oil and gas wells, increasing pressure underground and making it easier to produce the oil and gas. The injected CO2 also helps to release trapped oil and push it to the producing wells. Researchers have concluded that CO2 can be stored safely in oil fields without it reaching the overlying drinking water zones or the atmosphere.

More information is available from Victor Standish at the Empress plant, 403/838-8321.

The second winner was North Vancouver's Lonsdale Energy Corporation (LEC) project, a district energy heating system whose technology shares its roots with old-fashioned radiators. The system uses a series of mini-plants to produce hot water. The hot water energy goes through underground pipes in city streets to buildings connected to the system.

Once used in the connected buildings, the water is returned to a mini-plant, reheated and recirculated to the connected buildings. The mini-plant contains high-efficiency natural gas boilers and can fit into a small room.

The system is cutting energy use by generating heat about three times more efficiently than electrical heat, while at the same time eliminating 3,300 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. Two more mini-plants are expected to begin operating within two years. Together, the three mini-plants will be providing heat for eight to ten buildings in Lower Lonsdale and within ten years, enough building space to cover 55 football fields is expected to be connected to the system.

Another LEC advantage is that the mini-plants are designed to use a variety of fuels. This means that they can be switched to hydrogen, for instance, if it becomes economical to do so.

More information is available from Bill Susak, deputy city engineer and general manager of the Lonsdale Energy Corporation, 604/983-7335.

Unilever Canada's "Watt Watchers" initiative was the winner in the Comprehensive Project-Large Energy User sub-category. Since 1999, the Rexdale, Ontario plant has saved over 450,000 gigajoules of energy, investing more than $2.7 million in energy efficiency upgrades. As a result, the company is saving over $4.1 million each year, while eliminating about 23,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases.

Unilever launched its Watt Watchers Energy Team program in 2001 because plant managers wanted to re-energize the energy efficiency efforts the company had begun in 1999. Employees have subsequently submitted 220 ideas, of which 120 have been turned into energy-efficiency projects. Their ideas have saved the plant about $3 million in energy costs.

Getting all 170 employees on board was the key to the program's success. "People feel appreciated, and we thank them for ideas even when they aren't implemented. And we let people know that their ideas may be implemented in the future, when things change, like the cost of energy," said Doug Dittburner, chief engineer at the Unilever plant. "All the ideas are stored in our opportunities database," he added.

The other key to Unilever's success is the plant's laser-like focus on measurement. "Data rules-if you can't measure it, you can't manage it," Dittburner noted.

The plant uses advanced energy metering software, called Montage, which allows energy use to be tracked and posted for everyone to see. It lets employees track any rise or drop in energy use so they can find ways to reverse or accelerate the trend, as appropriate.

Two of the more innovative projects at the plant include using waste oil and margarine as fuel for boilers, and a water-treatment process that reduces water use and reclaims heat. But Unilever's ability to sustain and increase employee participation over the years, when many other energy management programs typically fizzle out, may well be the plant's most impressive achievement.

More information is available from Doug Dittburner at Unilever Canada, 416/240-4746.

Nexans Canada won the Process Improvement Projects-Large Energy Users award for its pioneering application of mechanical vapour recompression (MVR) to reduce both energy consumption and pollution during a critical stage of copper wire manufacturing. Developed by AndrĂˆ-Claude Lessard, engineering and services manager at the Nexans Canada facility in Montreal, the MVR system uses 60% less energy than conventional processes.

After molten copper is formed into copper wire and cooled, the outside surface oxidizes. To remove this tarnish, the wire passes through a sulfuric acid pickling tank. It is then rinsed with water and coated with a protective solution, commonly called soap, to prevent re-oxidation. During this process, acid gradually accumulates in both the rinse water and the soap.

Traditionally, the water is evaporated to concentrate the sulfuric acid so it can be used again. But this releases huge amounts of waste steam, some of which is contaminated with sulfuric acid.

The MVR system uses an evaporator that works in a closed circuit, so all the acid and the water is re-used. Dirty rinse water is boiled to separate the water from the sulfuric acid. The system captures all the evaporated water and uses it as steam to treat the sulfuric acid. Then the vapour condenses back into clean water and is re-used to rinse more wire. This virtual circle is highly efficient. As part of the MVR system, Nexans installed a patented heat exchanger developed by Hadwaco, a company based in Finland. The heat exchanger is energy efficient and resistant to strong acid.

To evaporate the 111,000 cubic metres of water used every year at Nexans, a conventional, steam-driven evaporator would use more than 350 terajoules. The MVR system does the same work with only 5.7 terajoules per year-over 61 times more efficiently. The energy saved contributes to a reduction of 15,000 tonnes per year in carbon dioxide emissions.

As an additional benefit, overall plant emissions contain 30% less sulfuric acid and are almost completely free of sulfuric acid components. The plant has also dramatically reduced the amount of water, chemicals and soap it uses. As a result, Nexans is saving about $600,000 a year.

"This closed-loop system recovers the acid-copper solution from the rinse water, while significantly increasing its flow rate and quality. Also, the separation and recovery of acid and water in the closed-loop system provides substantial savings," said Lessard, adding, "the low energy consumption is spectacular and real. Thanks to this system, we've decreased overall factory energy consumption, while increasing our production rate and our product quality."

Nexans is the first company to use MVR to help make copper wire. Based on this Canadian success, Nexans France has installed similar technology.

"The MVR principle is not well known in North America," Lessard noted, citing potential applications in other industry sectors such as milk production, pulp and paper, and chemical and food industries.

More information is available from AndrĂˆ-Claude Lessard at Nexans Canada, 514/645-2301.


Winners in the Equipment and Technology category received awards for Building Products and Energy Management Technology and in the sub-category of Energy-Using Equipment.

In the former sub-category, Encelium Technologies was recognized for its innovative approach to controlling energy use associated with lighting. The Markham, Ontario company is using Web-based controls to make smarter use of lights by adding intelligence to the on-off switch. Each light fixture gets its own Web address, allowing it to be controlled manually with a PC or automatically with software.

In an average building, lighting accounts for about 30 cents of every energy dollar. As electricity prices continue to rise, inefficient use of lighting is having a proportional impact on the bottom lines of companies and organizations. The bigger the building, the more these inefficiencies can cost.

In early 2004, Encelium installed its energy control system in a six-storey administration building owned by Toronto's University Health Network, an umbrella organization that includes the Toronto General Hospital.

"We cut lighting energy consumption in the building by 74%," said Encelium CEO Terry Mocherniak, noting that "this wasn't an old building with outdated technology. It had a best-of-breed lighting system already."

The project upgraded 1,500 light fixtures over enough floor space to cover about 13 soccer fields. Yearly energy savings add up to about $47,000. It cost the hospital about $200,000 to do the overhaul, which works out to a four-year payback. It took about six weeks to install, and most of the work was done on weekends and in the evening to avoid inconveniencing staff.

Personal control is one of the keys to Encelium's approach. People can dim a specific light or group of lights in their own workspace through their PC. Since each light fixture has its own web address, they can all be networked, much like office computers and printers. In some rooms, motion sensors can be set to turn off the lights after the last person leaves and to turn them on when someone arrives.

Photo sensors are another feature. Installed indoors near windows, skylights or atriums, these devices measure natural sunlight and automatically dim inside lights to save energy when adequate daylight exists.

Encelium's technology also provides "task tuning," a commonsense approach which puts less light in closets and hallways than offices and meeting rooms. In certain areas, lights can also be turned on and off following a pre-set schedule.

The final feature of the Encelium system is load shedding. A building manager can program the system to automatically dim all or certain less important lights during the day when energy prices are highest or during peak-demand periods. Lights can also be dimmed in low-priority areas such as washrooms, closets and storage rooms, potentially avoiding higher energy bills and even blackouts.

"Aside from the obvious energy savings, one of the best things about load shedding is that the human eye can't actually perceive the change when lights are dimmed up to 30%," said Mocherniak. "There's a lot of extra light out there during these peak periods that we can save without anyone noticing. More information is available from Terry Mocherniak at Encelium Technologies, 905/475-7769, ext 234.

The Energy-Using Equipment award went to Forintek Canada, the wood products industry's national research institute in Vancouver, for its computer-aided optimizer to run plywood mill drying machines.

The average plywood mill uses about 80% of its energy to dry sheets of wood, known as veneer. Mill trials using the technology, known as VDry, have shown a 10% cut in energy consumption-for annual savings of about $350,000 per mill in natural gas charges.

VDry simulates the drying process in a plywood mill's dryers. Workers or machines feed two, three or four veneers with different moisture levels into a dryer. Steam- or gas-heated jet dryers blow hot air onto the passing sheets. The dryers reduce the moisture content from as high as 100% to as little as 3%. This gives the veneer the strong, permanent adhesive bond needed for plywood and other wood products.

Airflow, temperature, and humidity inside the dryer, and moisture variations in the veneers as they are being dried, are fed into the VDry computer model. A mill operator can use the simulation to change settings on the dryer, saving energy and improving performance.

"The technology doesn't require any capital investment. For less than $30,000, staff in a plywood mill can get the software and training they need," said Jim Dangerfield, vice-President of Forintek's western division. "With realistic annual savings of $350,000, the return on investment happens in less than a month."

This technology not only reduces energy consumption immediately, it also pinpoints other methods for energy recycling and efficiency. For example, VDry showed that the most efficient drying technique involves sealing the dryer doors as tightly as possible and using minimum damper openings. This preserves energy, and the high humidity it creates maximizes drying productivity and veneer quality.

Most Canadian plywood mills are Forintek members, so the institute is confident that its dryer technology will be adopted quickly.

Forintek's pilot test of this technology also included a new way to sort veneer according to moisture content. The veneer is sorted by shining light through it. The light penetration is measured and used to calculate moisture content. This new method has indicated a 75% to 90% accuracy rating, compared to only 35% to 50% accuracy with current electrical methods.

"This is the first project of its kind in the world. It's an important advance because better sorting of the veneer means the dryers run more efficiently," said Chunping Dai, who leads a group of Forintek researchers.

The light method showed a 16% increase in drying productivity, which translates into an annual saving of $550,000 in natural gas costs for an average plywood mill.

"The cost of installing a new light moisture scanner is about $150,000," said Dangerfield. "We estimate the return at $1.5 million per year once energy, labour, equipment, sales margins and maintenance savings are factored in. It translates into a payback period of under two months."

There are about 20 plywood veneer mills in Canada. If they all adopted Forintek's new drying technology, energy savings nationwide would be equivalent to $7 million in annual natural gas charges. Similar acceptance of the light sorting method would yield natural gas savings projected at another $11.

More information is available from Jim Dangerfield at Forintek Canada, 604/224-3221.

Table of Contents  | Top of Page

  Ecolog Network