Energy efficient

L’ANSE – CertainTeed decreased the amount of energy used to produce each ceiling tile that rolls out its doors by 5.8 percent in 2013, an energy-efficiency improvement that helped parent company Saint-Gobain earn its sixth consecutive Energy Star Partner of the Year Award from the Environmental Protection Agency.

According to a Saint-Gobain press release, the EPA gives out the awards to recognize leadership in energy management and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions through energy efficiency. Nationally, Saint-Gobain achieved a 2.1 percent energy reduction on a per-unit basis.

At the CertainTeed plant in L’Anse, Plant Manager Chris Heikkinen said energy efficiency is important to business, as well as an environmental priority.

“Our energy costs are one of our highest costs,” Heikkinen said, noting they add up to about 15 percent of total operating costs. “Energy is also something we have more control over,” he said, comparing it to materials costs which are largely set by suppliers.

Philosophically, he ranked environmental responsibility as CertainTeed’s number two goal, behind only safety.

“Our priorities are safety, the environment, quality, service and cost,” he said.

Heikkinen said CertainTeed’s biggest 2013 efficiency improvements were achieved in the main dryer, which operates like a natural gas-fueled convection oven to dry tiles that begin as a liquid mixture before being formed and cut.

Heikkinen said improvements were made by changing the duct system on the dryer’s exhaust to reuse more of the heated air, and using excess steam purchased from the neighboring L’Anse Warden Electric Company plant to preheat tile before it goes into the dryer.

“Before the work we did with the Warden plant, we had to run at higher temperatures,” he said. “By utilizing steam in the heat exchangers, we reduced temperatures in the heater.”

The improvements reduced the total natural gas burned by about 40 percent, he said, which accounted for the lion’s share of the energy savings.

Another significant savings, Heikkinen said, was finding a more efficient way to expand pearlite, an ingredient in the tile mix that needs to be structurally changed before use.

Heikkinen said another environmentally friendly practice at the plant is using as much recycled content as possible in the tiles themselves, including byproducts from steel production such as vermiculite and pearlite, old newsprint, unusable corn starch, CertainTeed’s own rejected tiles and dust from the tile cutting process.

All things considered, he said, “I think this is the most sophisticated ceilings plant in the country.”

Heikkinen said Saint-Gobain and CertainTeed have a shared focus on decreasing greenhouse emissions and limiting environmental impact, one that’s brought to mind daily by the Copper Country’s beauty.

“We live in a pristine area,” he said. “The majority of our employees live and work here, and we want to keep it that way.”