NASA Technology Brings Soaring Energy Costs Down To The Ground
It's a good basic axiom that when an agency as cutting-edge as NASA invents a technology, said technology is guaranteed to trickle down into the private sector to be used in a lot more than just rocke...
It’s a good basic axiom that when an agency as cutting-edge as NASA invents a technology, said technology is guaranteed to trickle down into the private sector to be used in a lot more than just rockets.
Case in point: electronic sensing equipment maker Power Efficiency Corporation, which is applying a method for improving the efficiency of induction motors that was devised in the 1970s by NASA engineer Frank Nola to benefit today’s plastics processors looking to cut their energy consumption.
According to company CEO and chairman Steve Strasser, Power Efficiency’s E-Save technology uses a microprocessor to monitor the energy requirements of AC motors and calculate the power required to match the load, thereby improving efficiency by up to 35 per cent.
“We’ve taken the so-called Nola energy savings technology and improved it with a number of proprietary developments,” he said. “The result is that E-Save works on a broader range of motors than other Nola-based devices on the market.”
BREAKING INTO PLASTICS
The E-Save equipment, introduced to the North American plastics market at the NPE2009 trade show in June, is installed between the power source and the motor, and adjusts the amount of electricity to match the load. “It’s like cruise control in a car,” Strasser said. “The amount of energy used by the motor changes according to the load, but the speed of the motor always remains the same, which is important for maintaining steady production.”
Each E-Save unit has a motor starter that creates a so-called soft start, Strasser continued, reducing the load and torque in the powertrain of the motor during startup, which in turn reduces the mechanical stress on the motor and shaft. “E-Save is best suited for variably or lightly loaded applications and for motors that are running constantly but need an influx of electricity in variable doses,” he said.
While new to plastics processing, E-Save technology isn’t exactly untested. Managers of Denver International Airport retrofitted 110 escalators and 54 moving walkways with variable-speed motor controllers, saving 1.75 million kilowatt-hours a year and cutting operating costs by US$105,000 a year. “Having proven the technology, we’re now bringing pilot projects onto the plastics market, in plants owned by Berry Plastics, Graham Packaging Company and Ball Corporation,” Strasser said.
In Berry Plastics’ Anaheim, Calif. facility, for example, motor efficiency controllers were installed on 25 granulators, reducing the kilowatts required by almost 45 per cent — an annual saving of US$600 per granulator unit, according to an independent energy audit. During low load times, each unit conserved energy by shutting off the voltage for part of the half cycle, and — in the longer term — each has the potential to lengthen the motor life of the granulators by reducing operating temperatures.
According to Strasser, Berry Plastics represents merely the tip of the energy savings iceberg.
“The typical motor is designed for the peak or worst-case condition,” he explained. “In a perfect world, induction motors would operate at 100 per cent efficiency, with every kilowatt of power delivered to the motor terminals resulting in useful work at the motor shaft. In the real world, however, about half of the motors in all manufacturing businesses are fully loaded less than 45 per cent of the time — this means that, with the right sensing equipment, there’s a lot of wasted energy that can be recovered.”
The E-Save technology — which received the 2009 Innovation of the Year Award from business research firm Frost & Sullivan — can be retrofitted to virtually any AC motor by virtually any electrician in 60 minutes or less, Strasser said.
Clearly, the word is getting out: OEMs such as Rapid Granulator are now installing E-Save units as a standard feature on new models. Power Efficiency is currently in the process of testing their products on injection molding, blow molding and extrusion machines, and is also hiring a slew of new sales representatives to field inquiries.
“In today’s economy, every dollar counts,” Strasser said. “We can provide huge energy savings to people in the plastics industry.”
Power Efficiency Corporation (Las Vegas, Nev.);
Rotalec (Saint-Laurent, Que.);