CHICAGO — There are many factors that are necessary for laundry and linen service providers to function, but one thing is certain: without power, a laundry won’t be processing any goods.
An on-premises laundry (OPL) or commercial/industrial plant could have all of the latest equipment, the best delivery service, wonderful employees and clients with textiles and linens that need care, but the laundry won’t be in business without energy.
There are several ways to power a laundry operation, and many more ways to improve efficiency and save money.
American Laundry News spoke with two experts in laundry design and construction, Ed Kwasnick and Bob Corfield, to get their insights into powering a laundry.
Kwasnick is director of business development for ARCO/Murray. The construction company, based in Downers Grove, Ill., designs and builds laundry operations across the country.
Corfield is president and CEO of Laundry Design Group out of Las Vegas, and assists laundries in creating effective laundry systems.
What does it take to power a laundry? There are four main power sources for a laundry operation: natural gas, electricity, steam and compressed air.
“The primary energy in North America is natural gas and electric,” Corfield says. “In some urban areas, purchased steam is an option for some plants.”
Kwasnick says natural gas is used in burners to heat items such as dryers, ironers, tunnel finishers, and so on. Steam, too, can be used to heat items such as water, ironers and dryers. Electricity powers motors, lights and controls. Finally, compressed air is used to move things like machinery components, air cylinders, switches, etc.
“Natural gas, electricity and cold water are the primary utilities supplied by external sources such as utility companies, the city, a well, etc.,” Kwasnick says. “Water is not a power source. But it is the other major utility used primarily to wash things.”
Steam, compressed air and process water (hot and tempered) are secondary utilities produced in the laundry by machinery fed by the primary utilities, he says.
“For example, a boiler consumes water, natural gas and electricity to manufacture high-pressure steam,” says Kwasnick. “An air compressor consumes electricity to produce clean, dry compressed air. A process water system consumes water, electricity, natural gas and potentially steam to produce hot water.”
Once a laundry is powered, it’s up to the company to make the best use of that energy. Over the years, evolving technology has made using those energy sources more efficient.
“In the 1990s, the major technological innovation was electrical motor drive technology, which had a considerable impact on electrical costs in large laundry plants,” Corfield says. “Inverter drives reduced the electrical demand curve from traditional motor starter technology and reduced electrical costs and maintenance.”
He says that in the early 2000s, reductions in water consumption were achieved through standing bath tunnel technology, high-pressure fast cycle press extraction and advances in water recycling technology.
“There is a direct correlation in water reduction and energy usage, and these technologies provided considerable cost reduction and productivity increases to warrant wide acceptance and usage in every part of the laundry industry,” Corfield says.
Boilers have become more efficient by improving the burner design and controls to reduce natural gas consumption, says Kwasnick.
“Traditional boilers are designed to run continuously even when steam is not needed,” he says. “They cannot shut down and start back up because of thermal stresses. These stresses cause cracking and other damage. However, some new boilers are designed to cycle on and off throughout the day to meet steam demands. This ability to shut down and start back up when not needed further reduces gas consumption.”
Kwasnick says that improvements in energy utilization and efficiency have been made in most equipment used in a laundry. For example, air compressors use VFDs (variable frequency drives) to meet compressed air demand, which uses less electricity than older models.
“We use systems such as heat reclaimers, stack economizers and vent condensers to capture waste heat from our boilers and waste water, use those free Btu to pre-heat the incoming water,” he adds.
Other equipment improvements Kwasnick notes include new dryers that are more efficient and consume less gas than they used to due to improved burners, controls and sensors that determine when the goods are dry, thus eliminating over-drying.
He says that tunnel technology continues to advance, using less water per gallon during the wash process. Also, more water is removed during extraction so goods don’t have to be dried as long, saving gas and electricity in the process.
Thermal fluid ironers eliminate the need for steam to heat the ironer chest, says Kwasnick. This eliminates all steam and condensate return piping, and all the losses associated with that piping. It also reduces the boiler steam load, lowering the boiler size.
While most technology related to energy reduction might focus on equipment, Corfield says a key innovation in the last 15 years has been in effective lower-temperature chemistry, specifically peracid (peroxyacetic acid blend) bleaching systems.
“Traditionally, peroxide bleaching requires temperatures of 170 degrees or higher to achieve optimum oxidizing effect,” he says. “Peroxyacetic acid blended with hydrogen peroxide allows highly effective bleaching at temperatures as low as 130 degrees. The 40- to 50-degree reduction in energy required for large-volume healthcare processing is considerable, without compromise for quality or disinfection outcomes.”
Any discussion about power utilization and energy efficiency inevitably includes alternative sources. Both Corfield and Kwasnick say that alternative sources, such as wind turbines and solar panels, simply can’t handle the scale of powering a laundry operation.
“My company has worked on several solar conversion projects that had a laundry element,” Corfield says. “No matter how much we tried to use solar-heated water, the technology does not allow for the volume of water required for most laundry operations. The benefit of solar electrical systems does add a marginal benefit, but it is only mostly effective in only certain markets in the West and Southwest U.S.”
NEW BUILD, RENOVATION
When it comes to laundries looking to build a new facility or renovate its current operations, both Corfield and Kwasnick recommend creating the most efficient systems to best utilize power.
“In every new project, we specify low-energy, ‘less steam’ production equipment and considerable water and energy recovery systems to target whole plant gas consumption of under 1,800 Btu per clean pound processed,” Corfield says. “The focus should be on less water and a reduction on the use of steam to heat water.”
Kwasnick has six pieces of equipment he recommends for a new build:
- A heat reclaimer
- A high-efficiency modular boiler
- High-efficiency LED lighting
- Thermal ironers
- Tunnel washer for linen or conventional washers with water reuse for industrial
- Air compressors with VFD
Equipment replacements for a renovation, says Corfield, depends on the type of outcomes required for the renovation.
“I would specify replacing steam ironers with gas-fired, self-contained thermal fluid ironers; new wastewater heat recovery systems to gain considerable energy reduction; and, if possible, I would change every dryer older than 20 years,” he says. “New dryers have considerable advantages over the last five to 10 years by utilizing higher airflows, air recirculation, and much improved gas burner technologies.”
ENERGY USAGE ADVICE
While a laundry looking to build or renovate will most likely look at the most efficient ways to utilize energy, most laundries are looking to best use power with what technology and equipment it has.
Both Corfield and Kwasnick have practical ideas for a laundry looking to improve efficiency while keeping most of its current equipment.
“If this is a tunnel washer plant, I would replace the press if it is over 15 years old and every dryer that has outdated technology or is benchmarked over 2,200 Btu per pound of water removed,” Corfield says.
Kwasnick has a laundry list of ideas to save on gas, electricity and water. To save natural gas, he recommends:
- First, install a heat reclaimer if they don’t already have one.
- If they have a traditional boiler, install a stack economizer to use the hot flue gases to pre-heat the incoming water.
- Insulate all steam, condensate return and hot water lines.
- Tune up equipment burners (boilers, dryers, etc.) annually to ensure they are operating at top efficiency.
- Keep the inside of the boiler surfaces clean and scale-free.
- Make sure all steam traps are operating properly.
- Fix all steam leaks ASAP.
- Maintain proper steam pressure.
- Do not overload or underload the dryers, as both scenarios require longer dryer times and use more gas.
To save electricity:
- Install high-efficiency lighting.
- Turn off lights and equipment when not in use.
- Stagger startup of equipment with high electrical loads (e.g., washers, air compressors, etc.) to minimize your electrical demand charge.
- Do not overload or underload the washroom equipment, as both scenarios use more electricity.
To save water:
- Install a water recycle system.
- Make sure you are getting proper credit on your sewer bill for water that was evaporated during the laundry process.
- Repair water leaks.
- Tighten up your wash formulas (e.g., eliminate unnecessary rinses).
Finally, both Kwasnick and Corfield recommend that laundries engage in three activities to best power a laundry operation: tracking, benchmarking, and setting standards.
“Track your utility consumption on a daily or weekly basis,” Kwasnick says. “Benchmark your results against the best, and set standards for energy usage just like you do for production output.”
“Monitor all electrical and gas against your clean pounds processed every day and target total energy to 4-6% of costs,” adds Corfield. “We have seen plants benchmark at 14% of costs. If you are not monitoring energy, you are likely wasting tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands (of dollars) per year, depending on the size of your plant.”