Opinion: Circular economy in pharmaceutical production plants

Relieving pressure on resources by reusing and recycling pushes pharmaceutical production in a more sustainable direction. Writes Emma Goodwin of energy efficiency consultancy EECO2

The circular economy is an excellent model to implement into any organisation; to be ignorant of the resources used and disposing of 100% of their waste is inefficient and careless. In the pharmaceutical industry, in particular, it is important to look for opportunities to reduce, reuse and recycle wherever possible.

Pharma and biotech companies are renowned for their consumption of energy; when investing in new manufacturing sites or retrofitting them, these companies are more willing to investigate eco-driven designs. Whether this is due to cost benefits, reputation, or for a competitive advantage, the result is the same. Moving towards a more circular economy should deliver benefits to not only the organisation implementing the model but to the wider community and the overall environment.

Increased emphasis on reusing and recycling relieves pressure on resources and pushes pharmaceutical production in a more sustainable direction.

EECO2 implements the philosophy “reduce, reuse and recycle” when approaching any energy efficiency project. Looking into energy usage, and how to expertly reduce it without affecting product quality is the primary objective.

Reduce, reuse and recycle

Firstly, an organisation should look at reducing its consumption of resources, be that energy, water or materials. When we look at the most significant energy users in pharmaceutical manufacturing and laboratories, we find it is the treatment and movement of the air: HVAC system.

Supported by modern technical knowledge of HVAC systems and unique R&D, as well as the realities of the clients’ systems and operations, high-quality energy assessments can lead to the creation of a cost-effective, energy sufficient and carbon-reducing plans for the company to implement. These plans will identify quick changes the company can make to reduce excess consumption, along with longer-term projects to establish a strong foundation for an energy-efficient and environment-conscious corporation.

An energy assessment involves assessing and targeting significant energy-consuming processes associated with the industry to identify opportunities for efficiency improvements. The improvements, whether it be switching lights off, altering airflow rates or re-introducing extracted air or water, will reduce energy consumption and potentially water consumption, too.

Emma Goodwin

Implementing change

With agreement from the site and quality department, projects can be delivered that result in HVAC & utilities (steam, chilled water, etc.) delivering their set requirements in line with quality and compliance with the minimum amount of energy consumption as possible.

The organisations should look at reusing already conditioned air and water, wherever possible: the air that has travelled throughout the system and has been conditioned to the appropriate temperature, pressure and humidity, will be examined to see if it can be reused once more within the design of the HVAC system.

Each time fresh air enters the system, it has to be conditioned to a set requirements. If we can design a system that avoids using untreated fresh air and can use air that has already been conditioned, then we should: less conditioning required to get the air to a set point means less energy is used in that process. Such a model leads to energy savings and reduces carbon emissions in the process.

The strategy also works for utilities such as water. Within a system, if you have already transported water to the correct location, treated it and conditioned it to its designed set point, then simply dispose of it is waste. If a designer can change a system to include conditioning the water and allowing it to enter back into the system, using less energy than using fresh water, it would then make sense to implement the improved design. Of course, the site will consider the return on investment of the project, but the reduction of energy, emissions and cost will hopefully outweigh the cost of the change.

The above is dependent on the specific process and requirements of the site and production process in question. Cross-contamination and quality need to be considered; i.e. if the recycled water will be used for cooling the air through a cooling coil, there is great argument for this, as water does not come in direct contact with any product. In most case, using the water again for the same process will take less time and energy to cool down for reuse compared with fresh water.

Recycling and reusing resources improves sustainability, reduces costs and results in less waste coming out of a production site, which again benefit the management of the site. At a time when we are all aiming to become more sustainable and environmentally friendly, becoming a more circular economy is paramount.

N.B. This article is featured in the March 2020 issue of Cleanroom Technology. Subscribe today and get your print copy!

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