Industrial emissions illustration

Why the way you measure emissions may not reduce them

Image credit: Haydamashchuk Denis Pawlowich/Dreamstime

Taking a fresh look at how your business monitors greenhouse gas emissions can reveal new opportunities for adapting activities such as maintenance that aren’t obvious from formal approaches.

As international efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions continue in light of growing acceptance that climate change is real, man-made and looming, increasing numbers of businesses are striving to measure, report and reduce their carbon footprints.

Many seek the confidence, authority and reputation enhancement that comes from using a recognised methodology and quantification to apply certified standards to their carbon assessments. There is no doubt about the recognised benefits of this approach, but inevitably the structure of assessments is driven by the structure of the required reporting. For example, where a quantification methodology requires reporting of direct and indirect emissions - also known as scope 1 and scope 2 emissions - data collation is organised to match that requirement. As a result, a business’s subsequent carbon-reduction initiatives tend to be channelled along similar lines.

When you have a hammer, every problem becomes a nail. That is to say, reduction targets, initiatives and actions tend to focus on the parameters that were originally measured. Further opportunities within the data may be obscured or even omitted by the applied methodology. Moreover, breaking down data on greenhouse gas emissions by team function or energy source can equally obscure carbon-reduction opportunities.

The ‘direct’ emissions encompassed in scope 1 are gas use and fuel for transport. Gas-reduction objectives target reducing the need for heating – whether that is in the form of office heating or an industrial process such as an industrial oven for bakeries, paint curing or furnaces. Solutions focus on alternatives to gas boilers such as electric heating, heat pumps, insulation and process optimisation, process heat reuse and efforts to reduce energy losses.

Transport tends to be viewed by team function, or even as a single entity, resulting in reduction objectives around fuel efficiency, alternatives to fossil fuels such as electric vehicles, and alternatives to travel such as telecommuting. Transport-related carbon-reduction opportunities may be missed, even though their implementation is feasible.

The ‘indirect’ emissions encompassed by scope 2 are associated with electricity use in business activities. Carbon-reduction objectives usually target options such as solar panels, person-in-room lights, LED lighting, variable speed drive motors and passive mixing.

An initial assessment of the business activities that give rise to greenhouse gas emissions will quantify energy use in carbon equivalent terms, but businesses need an approach that provides more than just quantification. Carbon-reduction ambitions are best served by an assessment that goes further than scope 1 and scope 2. Granularity that maps emissions directly onto activities, asset types and team responsibilities will allow more strategic targets to be identified.

Granularity on this scale provides the detail needed to plan tactics and positive action. It’s all too easy to consider carbon reduction in terms of gas and electricity use, greener transport, greater insulation for buildings and recycling to reduce waste. The format for carbon reporting forces that perspective, focusing as it does on scope 1 direct emission sources which are largely use of gas for heating. Scope 2 indirect emission come from electricity for lighting, computing, driving motors, mixers, belts and other mechanical assets.

Data is often collected per company for a small company, or per department for a larger company – the installation team, the manufacturing team, the finance team and so on. Selecting the correct level of granularity provides insight into where carbon savings can be made. How much transport by the maintenance team, for example, is a return visit, how much results from a lack of optimisation in journey planning? Are operatives criss-crossing one another on the roads? Are they returning to the same asset but for a different job? Is a different technician on their way to that asset for a job that could have been performed by the technician that just left?

Breaking greenhouse gas emissions down into activity rather than team function can reveal projects and initiatives for carbon reduction. An approach that works for assessment and reporting can be less useful when creating carbon-reduction initiatives. Digital tools can play a key role in manufacturing and operations to help achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. One strategic reduction initiative to consider is data-led dynamic maintenance optimisation.

Often, a maintenance strategy is driven by resource availability and the needs of the assets to be maintained. A significant driver for a maintenance manager will be cost and productivity - minimising equipment down-time and keeping up excellent customer service levels.

Once other avenues of carbon reduction have been optimised, it becomes possible to decarbonise maintenance activities and incorporate them into broader carbon-reduction initiatives. Once you have completed a business carbon quantification, all of your carbon-reduction initiatives are performing well and on target to meet or exceed your carbon reduction goals, and you have a successful collaboration in place with suppliers to minimise embodied carbon, the next step is to incorporate digital technologies.

A move to dynamic maintenance starts by shaking up the maintenance department and implementing the lowest-carbon maintenance strategy suitable for your business. Current maintenance strategy may contain a mix of reactive and planned maintenance. The reactive maintenance element is the least environmentally friendly option. Naturally, you will already be working to minimise reactive maintenance in favour of planned maintenance as this is more cost effective and provides the greatest level of minimising equipment down time.

Dynamic maintenance is a data-led strategy that requires active surveillance of operational data. Telemetry data is perfect for this application. Your first step is to identify a mode of failure indicated by the operational data received. This could be a ratio of speed to flow in a variable-speed drive or an excessive number of starts in a pump.

Designing low-carbon maintenance procedures starts with reviewing procedures with the additional mind set of decarbonisation - identify innovative potential, bundle asset maintenance jobs to minimise travel, and find synergy in work instructions to avoid duplication.

When it comes to identifying energy dissipation in assets, it is tempting to purchase monitoring equipment that notifies increased vibration, heat or noise that can warn of impending breakdown. This can be useful. However, all are simply indicators of wasted energy dissipated to the atmosphere and if you do not need to know the specific form in which the dissipated energy is manifesting but rather need to know what it indicates – that a maintenance intervention is necessary - then increased vibration, heat and noise can be inferred from operational data analysis.

Once you have cut your data and implemented carbon-reduction initiatives, cut it again. See what else drops out when the data is looked at in a new light from a fresh perspective. When optimising maintenance practice, incorporate operational data into the quantified carbon data. Operational data such as that from telemetry, work orders, customer feedback. A form of intensity ratio can be devised. It is similar to the intensity ratio reported in director’s energy and carbon reports and for streamlined energy and carbon reporting (SECR) but is an operational serviceability ratio to carbon emissions that allows you to create a carbon and operational efficiency maintenance strategy.

As more and more companies report on their efforts to reduce their carbon footprint in response to pressure from international government, investors and customers, methodologies like dynamic maintenance will start to become an integral part day-to-day strategy for many manufacturing businesses, an approach that requires everyone to have an understanding of not only the practice but the factors motivating their implementation.

Dr Torill Bigg is chief carbon reduction engineer with Tunley Engineering

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