VW concentrating on 3 E’s
by LUCIE R. WILLSIE, Associate Editor
Sep 09, 2010 | 2437 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
OUTSIDE COLLECTION — Before entering the media center, outside roof water collectors trap water to be used in the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant, said Chris Johnson, assistant manager of infrastructure. Banner photo, LUCIE R. WILLSIE
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Maybe due to its German business background and culture, but also because it’s smart for business and the right thing to do for the environment, Volkswagen is concerned with making the Chattanooga plant as energy efficient and ecologically friendly as possible.

“Energy saving begins with everyone. That’s the most important message,” said Dieter Schleifer, manager of VW Chattanooga plant infrastructure. “The mindset comes from Germany. We try to be a little part of all this energy savings.”

As a result, although no facts and figures are available as yet, the company hopes the actual money savings will reach to the consumer as well. Although some systems require an initial expense, VW officials hope the monetary savings may cut the cost of the final product to the consumer down the line.

During a tour of the behind-the-scenes energy production areas Wednesday where the plant operational systems control the heating, cooling and power to the Chattanooga VW plant, VW officials explained the many and varied ways the plant was now saving energy, as well as using it more efficiently.

Located centrally just west of the paint shop, the media center is a 35,000-square-foot building that houses air compressors, chillers, cooling towers, fire pumps, a fire water storage tank, heat exchangers, hot water heaters, and processing pumps.

“We tried to use the most efficient processes,” Schleifer said.

Before even entering the media center, the cooling tower is part of a system that collects water from the roof and stores it and uses it throughout the plant.

Another tank inside is also huge.

“It’s one of the largest tanks I’ve ever seen,” said Chris Johnson, assistant manager of plant infrastructure.

This water is used to pump cold water into the plant for many reasons, notably to save chemicals for water treatment.

“It’s much more expensive initially, but much more ecologically friendly,” Johnson said.

The chilled water system from this one tank could cool about 1,600 homes, the hot water heaters could heat roughly 800 homes, and the fire pumps could fill an Olympic-sized pool in a little more than 1 1/2 hours.

The electric supply center supplies 25 percent for the utilities section, called the media center, at the plant. And the power is Co2-free.

“It’s so vital to have an uninterrupted power supply,” Schleifer said.

In addition, the plant has installed additional energy-savers, including exterior LED lighting, interior compact fluorescent lighting, variable frequency drives on motors, rain water collection that is reused for the weld water system, six-inch-thick mineral wool insulated wall panels, motion sensors that turn lights off when the system notices no one is there, energy efficient motors, and system controllers to make sure all the energy available is used efficiently.

It takes up to 27 megawatts to operate the entire plant, with 20 percent of that required for the media center alone. That would equal the same amount of electricity to power 3,000 homes.

“We only want to use as much power as necessary,” Johnson said. Every motor is high-energy efficient. The insulating paneling is six inches thick. Up and running 24/7 right now already, two maintenance operators currently take care of the media center. When the plant is up and running, four more will be added. The Chattanooga media center is 30 percent to 35 percent more efficient than older similarly sized auto manufacturing plants.

The actual cost savings is yet unknown. And it’s difficult to compare this new plant with the other 60-some plants worldwide. But one thing Schleifer does know, this Chattanooga plant is “much more energy efficient.”

“Once we get ramped up, we’ll know the money savings better,” Schleifer said.