As loadshedding and other electricity interruptions become more frequent, and the costs of electricity and other energy sources continue to climb, the damage to an already challenged foundry sector is concern that the National Foundry Technology Network (NFTN) hopes to mitigate to some extent. To this end, the NFTN, together with colleagues at the Council for Scientific Industrial Research (CSIR), have announced the commencement of a Foundry Energy Efficiency Project.
Led by CSIR Principal Researcher, Dr Peter Mukoma on behalf of the NFTN, the project is currently in the first phase of a two-phase energy study. The initial focus will be on the review of the energy consumption and efficiency findings from work undertaken in the sector by the National Cleaner Production Centre, South Africa (NCPC-SA) and NFTN over the past few years, in order to determine energy consumption trends and performance of the foundry sector. The study will also review and consider relevant information from other local and international studies as input into the recommendations.
While such studies often do not result in practical implementation, the energy efficiency work of the NCPC-SA – also hosted at the CSIR – has shown that companies need practical solutions, and it is our objectives to develop and deliver those practical solutions.
According to Dr Mukoma, once the data has been gathered, the team of experts will use the data to inform the development of relevant guides, capacity building and pilot projects for the sector, for implementation in the next phase.
CSIR Principal Researcher, Dr Peter Mukoma
“The need to understand the impact of energy cost on the overall cost of production for the foundries is important if the foundries are to be competitive. We believe that if challenges are identified, tools can be developed to address them in multiple plants. Past work by the CSIR and NCPC-SA in this sector has resulted in energy savings for several foundries,” said Dr Mukoma.
Last year, the NFTN and CSIR conducted the first phase of a foundry status quo study, predominantly related to environmental compliance. In terms of energy, the phase one study also confirmed what most know intuitively that energy, and particularly electricity, is an operational challenge for foundries.
According to the survey, which contained feedback from around 80 foundries, chief among the energy-related challenges were loadshedding, which results in reduced efficiency of foundries, potential damage to equipment and wastage of materials and insufficient supply of electricity, for various reasons, which results in reduced operational efficiency and potential downtime.
The basic data collected points to the depth of the issue but is not sufficient to provide input to national and local authorities, or further research and industry-level interventions.
The second phase of the environmental compliance research and engagement, focusing on air emissions, and aiming to shift policy and practices to improve foundry compliance will also begin this month, along with the energy efficiency project.
According to Dr Mukoma, data from the phase one status quo report, along with measured and verified energy savings form the NCPC-SA’s Industrial Energy Efficiency (IEE) Project is a good start, but it will have to be supplemented by new data, including some quick surveys in the sector.
“The analysis will identify significant energy users in the sector, understand current energy management practices and provide preliminary findings which will be communicated through a foundry energy status quo report to inform activities of phase 2 and the energy project will have three phases over the next 18 months,” he explained.
What information or data will the study collect?
Between now and February 2022, Dr Mukoma and his team will be collecting basic data on the energy consumption of the audited foundries to better identify and describe the energy economy and energy saving potential of individual foundries.
From April 2022, detailed energy audits of the foundries will be conducted (phase 2) at foundry operational level. This will involve fieldwork and the measurement of energy consumption on-site; and identification and study of systems and equipment that consume heat, fuel, electricity, and water in the foundries.
The team will then analyse the level of energy use of the individual foundries, based on initial data, fieldwork, and interviews with foundry personnel. The result will be a clear description of the energy saving measures and the relevant saving potential for each foundry. In addition, an energy-use index for each audited foundry will be calculated and reported.
The final phase of the project will lead to the compilation of a good practice guide and searchable online database giving energy saving solutions for foundries. This will also include financing options for energy-efficiency projects. This phase will link into other projects currently underway through SANEDI, Cape Energy Technology and the IEE Project.
How will the data be collected?
“In this phase of the project, we intend to conduct an online survey to collect basic energy consumption, types, cost and management data. This will be done in collaboration with the CSIR team who are responsible for conducting the next phase of the environmental compliance study. This will lead to a plan for assisting the foundries for both energy and environmental compliance.”
“Since the number of foundries has reduced significantly in recent years, all operating foundries will be contacted for information, and we believe it will be of benefit to the individual businesses. It helps if a foundry tracks its energy consumption and costs. The next phase will require site visits and all foundries will be contacted to participate,” Dr Mukoma explained.
Dr Mukoma says the data will then be used by the NFTN to design specific interventions to address the challenges faced by the foundries in managing energy usage, cost, and security of supply. The participation of the industry is key for the success of the interventions.
“While we understand that foundries are very often under pressure, we believe that these interventions can make a difference. Case studies by the NCPC-SA and others demonstrate this fact, and internationally it is evidenced that improving energy efficiency can reduce costs and therefore improve the bottom-line – over and above the environmental efficiency improvements.”
Dr Mukoma and his team will be contacting foundries between January and February 2022 to collect the data, and by March the data will be presented to the dtic and Department of Mineral Resource and Energy (DMRE), power utility Eskom and other entities to identify interventions.
“We would like to urge all in the foundry sector to participate in the project as it will result in recommendations for support and implementation of the most relevant initiatives to keep the industry competitive,” Dr Mukoma added.