Facilities of the Year

Nominations for our 2000 Facilities of the Year Competition

One of the greatest challenges facing businesses throughout the world today is reconciling the dual imperatives of profitable business practices with responsible stewardship of natural resources. To deal with this problem, many progressive companies and entities are implementing sustainable development process improvements. Environmental Protection salutes the five award-winning facilities that have used innovative approaches ranging from wetlands restoration to water conservation programs to both protect the environment and promote their companies' financial success.

DuPont Victoria Nylon Plant
Victoria, Texas
Say the word "DuPont" to thousands of school children in south Texas and they immediately think of frogs, armadillos, pelicans and other swamp-dwelling critters. What do wetlands and their associated fauna and flora have to do with a chemical manufacturer? In an effort to be a better neighbor to the community in Victoria, Texas, the DuPont Victoria Nylon Plant took 3,500 acres of the plant's 4,500-acre site and set it aside for wildlife habitat enhancement. Based on input from the Chemical Manufacturers Association Responsible Care Initiative Advisory Panel, DuPont developed 53 acres of this land into a constructed wetland area that is part of its new onsite wastewater treatment system.

The wetland serves the practical function of further polishing and clarifying the plant's effluent that has been processed in the plant's aboveground biological treatment facility, which treats three million gallons of wastewater a day. After seven days in the wetland, the treated water then flows into the nearby Guadalupe River. The improved water recovery and treatment facility is part of DuPont's overall plan to phase out deep-well injection of hazardous waste by early 2000.

Efficient wastewater treatment is important at the plant, which manufactures five product lines, three of which are members of the nylon 6,6 intermediates group - adiponitrile (ADN), hexamethylenediamine (HMD) and adipic acid. The plant uses raw materials like ammonia, butadiene, cyclohexane, ethylene, hydrogen and natural gas to manufacture these products.

The new environmental improvement program will also recover and reuse over a quarter million pounds of materials formerly lost as waste each day. Examples of the materials include dibasic acids and catalyst metals such as nickel and copper. Twenty-five percent will be burned for fuel, thereby reducing the use of natural gas. The remaining 75 percent of this material will either be sold to customers for beneficial reuse or recycled as catalyst and raw material. DuPonts aniticipates that these combined improvements should very soon result in a 98 percent reduction in total plant emissions as defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's annual Toxic Release Inventory (TRI).

But beyond its role of providing natural water clarification, the wetland provides a wildlife habitat area and is used for academic research and community environmental education. At the site, DuPont has built its Wetlab Education Center, duck and bird blinds, observation decks and walkways. It also contains a pier and boardwalk constructed from recycled plastics. The wetland is a place where local teachers bring students from grades four Ð 12 to conduct the hands-on scientific investigations that meet the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) requirements, which mandate that students receive 40 percent of their science instruction during laboratory experiences. Lessons available at the wetland education center include soil dynamics, water chemistry, microbiology, entomology, zoology, botany and the application of the scientific method.

In 1998, the plant received the National Wildlife Habitat Council's Corporate Habitat of the Year award. It was the first time any facility achieved this honor twice.

Rhodia Wastewater Pretreatment Plant
Spartanburg, S.C.
Adopting the motto "Semper cogitere" (always thinking), the management at the Rhodia Wastewater Pretreatment Plant (WWPTP) several years ago combined their thoughts to come up with ways to increase the efficiency of the plant's performance. One look at the plant's large reduction in annual waste volumes shows that the plant management's collective brainpower has paid off. From 1995 through 1998, the Rhodia WWPTP achieved a 77 percent reduction in special waste - the plant's filter cake - that is shipped to a nearby landfill and recycling center.

The plant handles a nominal 35,000 gallons per day (gpd) of process influent from surfactant manufacturer. During the four-year period from 1995 through 1998, production tonnage increased from 65.3 million pounds annually to total of 82.2 million pounds - an increase of almost 26 percent. During the same period, the WWPTP filter cake generated at the plant declined from approximately 247.2 tons to 54.7 tons.

The WWPTP team used a combination of tactics to improve the plant's performance. First, the group developed an increasingly sophisticated database of instrument readings and internal laboratory data. By capturing higher quality data, the team found it easier to isolate the performance of each system component. This allowed for the more reliable prediction of downstream effects and for more effective system adjustments. This improved operational analytical capability almost completely eliminated the possibility of significant upsets to the biomass and provided input for the enhanced internal management of the sludge.

Through improved sludge management, the WWPTP team was able to carry out continual process refinements. Improved operational analysis demonstrated the need for some refinements to the mechanical components of the plant system. One of the chief refinements was taking one of the three equalization tanks offline and converting it into a digester.

By reducing the volume of filter cake generated, the plant achieved a total savings of $4,735 for the years of 1997 and 1998 in landfill charges for offsite disposal of the filter cake. In addition, the overall cost of operating the plant's environmental department, which included capital costs incurred by changes to the system, showed a decrease from $12.90 per production ton in 1995 to $10.88 per production ton in 1998 (a decrease of 15.6 percent).

In 1998, the plant became certified for membership in the South Carolina Environmental Excellence Program - the first chemical manufacturing facility to gain admission in this organization. The plant also won the 1998 South Carolina Governor's Pollution Prevention Award (Small Business Category) for 1998.

Freedom Mine
Beulah, N.D.
In the past, large-scale coal mining operations typically left swaths of lunar-like surfaces devoid of all vegetation. Now, operators of modern mines are making an effort to reclaim the land after the coal is extracted. One of the best examples of this new approach is the Freedom Mine - the largest lignite coal mine in North America. It is owned and operated by the Coteau Properties Company (a wholly owned subsidiary of the North American Coal Corporation). One of the mine operators' top priorities after extracting the coal is to restore the land back to native prairies, wetlands and farmland for hay and wheat production.

The mine's management has successfully promoted a program to control soil erosion and protect water quality. The program features a variety of measures to protect 500 to 800 acres of land mined and reclaimed annually at the mine. More than 5,000 acres have been mined and reclaimed since the Freedom Mine began delivering lignite in 1983. In a typical year at the mine, more than 100 million cubic yards of earth are moved to produce approximately 16 million tons of lignite.

Typical operations involve two 105 cubic yard class draglines used to uncover lignite in pits up to 150 feet wide and 2 miles long. The mine personnel build sediment ponds to collect sediment in runoff from disturbed areas before other earthwork activities begin. Topsoil and subsoil are then removed and stockpiled or spread on reclaimed lands directly behind the active pit. Draglines place spoil material directly from active pits into adjacent empty pits from which lignite is removed. This cast spoil is graded to a gently rolling landscape, which is often smoother than before the mining occurred. Topsoil and subsoil is spread evenly on graded spoils and seeded. A variety of erosion control techniques are used on reclaimed land, including the use of nurse crops, cover crops, straw mulch, erosion control blankets, silt fences and straw bale dikes.

The program has earned the Freedom Mine the 1999 Environmental Achievement of Distinction from the International Erosion Control Association. The organization gives the award each year to the outstanding project that demonstrates excellence in natural resource conservation through the use of effective erosion and sediment control practices.

In addition, in 1997 the mine won the Director's Award from the U.S. Department of Interior Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement.

Indian Head Division Naval Surface Warfare Center
Indian Head, Md.
Tools of warfare ranging from explosives and pyrotechnics to warheads and propellants are found at this ordnance manufacturing facility. Yet, in Indian Head Division Naval Surface Warfare Center's fight against pollution, the environmental management division is using a different set of weapons. Its arsenal includes smart engineering, research, training and public outreach.

At a cost of $4 million, the facility recently installed low nitrogen oxides (NOx) burners. The estimated reduction of over 250 tons per year of NOx will be a significant factor in improving local air quality. The facility also recently installed an ultraviolet (UV) radiation system that treats air emissions contaminated with volatile explosives such as nitroglycerin.

The facility is conserving water by focusing on its largest use, the base power plant. The plant's mineralizer system was upgraded, saving 4 million gallons per year. The changes also included reducing boiler blowdown rates, saving 1.5 million gallons of water per year. Another accomplishment includes the implementation of a successful recycling program that diverted 4,979 tons of solid waste from landfills, avoiding tipping fees of $298,740.

Indian Head also runs an environmental education center and watchable wildlife trail. One of the annual events hosted at the center is a week-long environmental camp for children. To promote environmental awareness and community involvement, the facility also coordinates annual beach cleanups and cosponsors Earth Day celebrations with the town of Indian Head.

This facility has received numerous awards. In 1999, the U.S. Secretary of Defense honored the facility with the Environmental Quality Award for an Industrial Installation. In 1998, it received several awards, including the National Arbor Day Foundation's Tree City U.S.A. Award; the Maryland Department of Natural Resources' Maryland Plant Community Green Award and other awards for environmental excellence from the U.S. Navy.

Motorola Plant
Austin, Texas
Semiconductor wafers are thirsty creatures. One-thousand six hundred to 2,400 gallons of city water are required for the production of one semiconductor wafer. Consequently, the use of ultrapure water (UPW) is critical in the semiconductor manufacturing industry. A typical large semiconductor fabrication facility (fab) uses a continuous stream of UPW to rinse the wafers after cleaning and etching. The most important operation used to purify the municipal water to meet UPW quality specifications is reverse osmosis.

Since 1997, Motorola's two Austin semiconductor manufacturing sites have successfully reduced water usage by over 311 million gallons per year and energy consumption by nearly 6.7 million kilowatt hour (kWh) per year by employing innovative water and energy conservation technology. This reduction in energy consumption translates into a reduction of the emissions of greenhouse gases - roughly the equivalent of a reduction of 5,163 tons of carbon dioxide.

As part of the company's water conservation project, the environmental management team implemented a new system to recover 50 to 60 percent of the reverse osmosis (RO) reject flow without using additional energy. This nanofilter system recovers wastewater from the first pass of RO, resulting in a total savings of about 87 million gallons of city water per year and about 520,000 kWh per year in energy at the company's two Austin plants.

In recognition of Motorola's water conservation accomplishments, the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission awarded the company's Austin facilities the 1999 Texas Environmental Excellence Award. In 1998, Motorola Austin received the 1998 Climate Wise Achievement Award for its innovative approach to greenhouse gas emissions reductions through water and energy conservation.

Nominations for our 2000 Facilities of the Year Competition

Do you anticipate that your facility will be formally recognized in 2000 for pollution prevention strategies, innovative design or other environmental accomplishments? If so, please let us know and we'll consider it for the coveted title of one of next year's five Facilities of the Year, which will be covered in our December 2000 issue. Every year we salute the top industrial plants, wastewater treatment operations, landfills and other types of facilities that have been singled out for outstanding environmental achievements by governmental regulators, trade associations or other professional groups. If you're interested, please contact Angela Neville, editor-in-chief, at aneville@stevenspublishing.com.

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This article originally appeared in the November, 1999 issue of Environmental Protection magazine, Vol. 10, Number 11, pp. 14-20.

This article originally appeared in the 11/01/1999 issue of Environmental Protection.