Our focus on energy is consistent with our corporate strategy calling on us to generate value through efficiency and optimization.
We know that, in many cases, improved energy efficiency delivers both emissions reduction and economic benefits. Our manufacturing processes are heavily dependent on energy, and we are committed to continuously looking for ways to reduce our consumption and advance toward our goal of reducing our energy intensity. We work toward implementing new innovations in equipment, process technologies and waste heat recovery systems as our primary levers to help us achieve efficiency improvements, in addition to considering alternative energy sources that can lead to improved efficiency.
We continue to make progress on our energy intensity reduction goal through the use of more efficient processes as well as our investments of waste heat recovery systems and energy-efficient motors and lighting. While our overall energy use increased in 2018, our energy intensity improved by 1.2% from 2017. Much of this improvement can be attributed to implementation of more efficient processes in our Purification Solutions business. We recognize our progress on this goal has been slow, but we look to current and planned energy center investments as well as energy audits to achieve this goal.
We are constantly looking for opportunities to introduce energy savings at our facilities including capturing waste heat for production of electricity or producing steam to offset our demands. We deploy state-of-the-art variable speed drives that have reduced our energy demand.
In 2017, our overall production increased, which also led to an increase in absolute energy consumption. However, the intensity of energy per metric ton (MT) of production remained relatively stable for the past three years. We realize that to get closer to our 2025 goal, we will need to continue driving energy efficiency forward more aggressively in coming years.
Optimizing energy usage in Sarnia
As part of our pursuit of efficient technologies, our facility in Sarnia, Canada, successfully implemented several measures to improve energy efficiency.
The facility converted approximately 100 light fixtures from high-pressure sodium lights to LED lights, saving an estimated 40,500 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity per year. Additionally, over a two-year period, the facility initiated several improvements to reduce its usage of natural gas, including the addition of new building insulation to reduce heat loss and the installation of several new electric steam condensate pumps that allow for the recovery of hot water. The combined savings from the improvement projects was approximately 1,800,000 m3 of avoided natural gas consumption, an amount equivalent to that used by approximately 375 households in Canada over the course of a year.
Converting waste heat to energy in Shimonoseki
Our Shimonoseki, Japan, site recently found a new way to convert excess steam to electricity, reducing our dependency on purchased electricity.
The facility is required to incinerate 100% of tail gas produced by the carbon black manufacturing process and convert the heat to steam. With the installation of three STEAMSTAR™ generators, we can now convert that steam to electrical power. Each machine can generate up to 160 kilowatts of energy, and the steam that cannot be used internally is sold to a neighboring facility
Solar Energy Project Planned for Billerica
We recently reached an agreement with SunPower to install a 1.12-megawatt solar project and integrated energy storage system at our Business and Technology Center in Billerica, Massachusetts.
Construction is anticipated to start in summer of 2019. The integrated solar parking canopy project will feature high-efficiency SunPower® solar panels and is expected to produce enough electricity to offset about 20 percent of the facility's energy needs, reducing our grid electricity costs. This project will contribute to our long-term sustainability efforts and help meet Massachusetts' renewable energy commitment.
Responding to Energy Audits in Belgium
In 2017, we saw a significant increase in efficiency at each of our two locations in Belgium, Locin and Pepinster, following a 2015 project to audit our consumption.
Energy consumption audits were conducted at the two Belgian masterbatch facilities in Loncin and Pepinster in 2015. Based on the outcome of those audits, several projects were undertaken to reduce our energy consumption, including insulating thermal oil and steam lines, upgrading lighting to LED in the production areas, purchasing more energy-efficient equipment and upgrading the oil-fired steam boiler with new, high-efficiency natural gas boilers. Through these efforts, 500 MT of annual GHG emissions were reduced by the end of 2017, nearly 10% of the total emissions from the two facilities. Additional actions are being considered to continue these efforts.
Reducing Natural Gas Consumption
In 2017, we brought natural gas consumption down 20% for some machinery at our Barry, Wales, facility, by utilizing steam.
At our fumed metal oxide facility in Barry, Wales, we produce steam for energy use at the site from our primary boilers. To maintain system reliability, a backup natural gas-fired boiler is available to rapidly respond in the event the main system experiences a disruption. However, to ensure the required response time, the backup boiler must be kept at the appropriate operating pressure and temperature. Recognizing the potential to reduce this natural gas consumption, the facility installed a new steam injection nozzle in the backup boiler to maintain the necessary conditions, significantly reducing the amount of natural gas used. In its first full year of use in 2017, there was a 20% reduction in natural gas used on this unit compared to the previous year.