Sustainable Textile Manufacturing: The Energy Factor
Energy efficiencies and renewable and alternative energy sources can help textile manufacturers reduce their environmental impact.
Janet Bealer Rodie, Managing Editor
In support of efforts in recent years to reverse the impacts of this degradation on quality of life and the balance within Earth's ecosystem, the textile industry once again has a significant role to play. Enlightened manufacturers are redesigning processes and products to reduce their environmental impact. In the process, they are reducing energy usage and replacing fossil fuels with renewable and alternative energy resources when possible or practicable. They are reducing water usage as well as waste and emissions volumes, and reclaiming and recycling materials that would otherwise be disposed of and giving them renewed purpose. They are choosing earth- and people-friendly process chemicals to replace more toxic ones. And these enlightened measures not only restore the ecological balance and safeguard human health, but also often benefit a company's fiscal health.
In a series of occasional articles, Textile World will examine how some textile manufacturers are transitioning operations to increasingly sustainable models. This first article focuses primarily on renewable and alternative energy and improved efficiencies, taking into account other aspects of sustainability if they apply here. Later articles will focus on other aspects of sustainable textile manufacturing.
Shaw Industries’ waste-to-energy gasification plant in Dalton, Ga., converts post-industrial carpet waste and wood flour to steam energy to replace fossil fuel usage at an adjoining laminate plant.
Atlanta-based modular and broadloom carpet manufacturer Interface Inc. has been measuring progress in its journey toward becoming a "restorative enterprise" -- one that ultimately gives back to the planet more than it takes -- since 1996, two years after company Founder and Chairman Ray Anderson's "epiphany" regarding the notion that business and industry must take the lead in reversing the environmental damage they have wrought. The company's goal of reducing its environmental impact to zero by 2020 includes deriving all of its energy from renewable resources. Its effort to reach that goal also includes revamping manufacturing processes to reduce energy usage; upgrading heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems; installing skylights; and improving the efficiency of artificial lighting systems. "This is a much bigger part of our initiative than renewable energy," said Erin Meezan, the company's vice president, sustainability.
Since 1996, Interface has reduced total energy use per unit of output at its carpet manufacturing plants by 44 percent, and non-renewable energy use per unit by 60 percent. Renewable inputs such as solar, hydroelectric, landfill gas (LFG) and geothermal now provide 28 percent of its total energy needs. Globally, seven of its manufacturing plants use 100-percent renewable electricity; and 89 percent of its overall electric power is renewably sourced, including power received directly from the grid, purchased as renewable energy certificates (RECs) or generated on-site.
Interface also has cut net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 71 percent since 1996, with 34 percent coming from reductions and 37 percent from offsets.
A 17-kilowatt-hour photovoltaic array at Interface Inc.’s Kyle Plant in LaGrange supplies a portion of the plant’s electricity needs.
Milliken & Company
Spartanburg-based textile and chemical manufacturer Milliken & Company has been measuring its energy consumption since the early 1990s. According to Cassidy Carlile, director of corporate environmental, the company generally sets energy reduction goals of 5 to 10 percent per year. Its GHG emissions from operations have been reduced by 28 percent since 2000. When carbon sequestration in the company's considerable forest acreage is added in, Milliken is certified to be a carbon-negative manufacturer -- the only textile or carpet manufacturer to achieve that status.
Milliken receives 5 to 10 percent of its total power needs from its hydroelectric plant in South Carolina, which provides power to a couple of local plants, with the rest sold locally and into the grid. The company's LaGrange, Ga., carpet manufacturing plant uses more than 80 percent of the LFG produced at the LaGrange landfill, which also provides LFG to Interface's carpet plant in LaGrange. LFG comprises 20 percent of the boiler fuel consumed at Milliken's plant. An LFG project also is underway to provide fuel to its plant in Inman, S.C.
Since the mid-1990s, wastewater biosolids have been used as boiler fuel at Milliken plants where they are generated. "This has allowed us to take them out of landfills and get energy value out of them as well," Carlile said. The company also diverts solid waste to waste-to-energy (WTE) facilities for use by other entities.
The landfill gas plant at the LaGrange, Ga., landfill harvests methane gas and supplies it to plants operated by Milliken Carpet and Interface Inc. to provide part of their energy needs.
Dalton, Ga.-based Shaw Industries Inc. -- a manufacturer of carpet, hardwood, laminate and tile flooring products -- annually converts some 18,000 tons of post-industrial carpet waste and wood flour to steam energy at its WTE gasification plant in Dalton, reporting the energy produced saves more than 2.5 million gallons of fossil fuel at an adjoining laminate plant. Another project called Re2E (Reclaim-to-Energy) is underway that will convert more than 38,000 tons of post-industrial and post-consumer carpet to provide more than 90 percent of the steam and half of the electricity needs at one of its carpet plants in Dalton. The project is expected to cut steam production costs significantly.
Shaw's Andalusia, Ala., yarn plant is replacing some of the diesel fuel that backs up the natural gas used in its operation with biodiesel derived from used cooking oil it collects from local businesses, employees and the City of Andalusia. Cary Baker, the plant's director of operations, said the "Yellow Grease" reduces the plant's fuel costs as well as suppliers' disposal costs. "We've probably saved $10,000 to $12,000 year-to-date," he said, adding that the savings are transferred to the plant's freight account to improve competitiveness in that area of the business.
These measures support Shaw's goal to derive 10 percent of its power from alternative sources by 2017 as well as reduce waste sent to landfills.
Hydropower is the source of more than 91 percent of the energy used by Canada-based contract, residential, outdoor and apparel fabric producer Victor Group Inc. at its Canadian locations. In addition, the company's manufacturing facility in Fall River, Mass., offsets a portion of its electricity usage internally with RECs from the Canadian operations, and is investigating local green energy options for future use if needed, according to Paul Bennotti, marketing director.
Orwigsburg, Pa.-based knitwear and fabric producer FesslerUSA expects to provide 90 percent of its electricity needs from a 1-megawatt solar array planned for its Deer Lake manufacturing plant, making it immune to an expected 40-percent jump in Pennsylvania's industrial electric rates after the first of next year. The company also has installed more efficient lighting and variable speed drives on some motors, and applied reflective paint where it can be effective, said Jenny Russo, financial analyst.