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Going Green in the Black Forest

Mon, 07/11/2011 - 6:32am
MIKE AUERBACH, Editor in Chief, Pharmaceutical Processing

PfizerPfizer’s Freiburg, Germany plant is the company’s largest packaging facility and a strategic manufacturing site. In 2008, 8 billion tablets and capsules were packaged into 230 million packs comprising medicines to treat a variety of diseases.

The site’s SPRING-E MAP (Strategic Plant Restructuring Energy Master Plan) was designed and implemented to optimize the manufacturing and packaging operations on the site and prove that cost savings and sustainability were not mutually exclusive.

The success of the project and its implementation of cutting edge technologies resulted in the facility winning the 2011 Facility of the Year Award for Sustainability, jointly sponsored by ISPE, INTERPHEX and Pharmaceutical Processing magazine.

Sustainability: The Goal from the Start

The team at Pfizer’s Freiburg plant held the strong belief and philosophy that cost-savings and environmental responsibility could go hand in hand. To determine how best to do this at Freiburg, the team put together a plan that eventually led to five major projects and more than 200 smaller projects all aimed to implement cost and energy efficient technologies.

The main technologies implemented at Freiburg include:

  • Geothermal heating and cooling of office buildings.
  • Biomass steam for pharmaceutical manufacturing and packaging.
  • Biomass absorption cooling for pharmaceutical manufacturing and packaging.
  • Adiabatic cooling for laboratories and high efficiency manufacturing areas.
  • Photovoltaic for electricity generation.

Green Achievements

The result of implementing a wide array of green technologies has led to some remarkable achievements. For example, the site’s greenhouse gas emissions were cut by 80 percent. Considering that European Union provisions on reducing gas emissions target a 20 percent reduction by the year 2020 you can see how impressive this achievement really is. In addition, the change to renewable energy sources means that 91% of the site’s primary energy is generated from these sources.

While the results are certainly impressive, perhaps more noteworthy is the fact that these achievements were accomplished by making renovations and improvements to an existing facility. When asked about the challenges of renovating a facility to meet sustainability goals in comparison to working from a clean sheet and designing them into a new facility, Michael Becker, Director of Engineering at Freiburg commented, “Here you have to separate two cases, first - the technology and second - the green strategy. It was clear that we could not use every technology because the buildings and environment were given and we had to integrate the technologies into that environment. But we had a clear strategy in our "Energy and Resource Conservation Master Plan" which was the basis for the design so that helped us to achieve the green targets.”

With a project of this size and scope one of the inevitable questions is when does all this green technology start paying dividends. According to Becker, in some instances this has already occurred. “The majority of projects had a break even point approximately 2.5 years from implementation and, depending on the actual installation time, some of the projects have already achieved this. By implementing these technologies we were able to show that we could combine ‘economical and ecological” targets. We proved that getting Freiburg more competitive and ‘healthier’ were complementary goals.”

Europe’s Largest Wood-Pellet Boiler

At Freiburg, the boiler house has been switched over to biomass fuel, resulting in Pfizer installing and operating Europe’s largest wood pellet boiler. By modernizing the facility this way the company saves the environment 5,500 tons of carbon dioxide annually as well as six-figures in heating costs.

Pfizer 2The wood pellet steam boiler system replaces two of four existing boiler systems which were built in 1962, and provide approximately 85 percent of the heat and steam required at the location.

Wood pellets are produced from dried, untreated residue wood (sawdust, shavings, residue wood from the forest) with a diameter of approximately 6 to 8 mm and a length of 5 to 45 mm. They are compressed under high pressure without adding chemical binding agents, and have a heat value of around 5 kWh/kg. The energy content of one kilogram of pellets corresponds to about half a liter of heating oil. 

In an integrated and sustainable fuel cycle, sawmills from Buchenbach and Kehl in the nearby Black Forest supply the biomass fuel for the wood pellet steam boiler. With an annual production capacity of over 200,000 tons, the works have sufficient capacity to supply Pfizer GmbH with their annual requirement of around 5,000 tons. The proximity between pellet production and combustion further improves the ecological balance sheet thanks to the short transport distances.

For an industry that is usually reluctant to change, the use of the wood pellet boiler was a daring choice. “The technology was not solely designed for pharmaceutical facilities,” says Becker, “but we designed it for use in our facility.” Becker continues, “The boiler is embedded into our building monitoring system to provide the necessary reliability for pharmaceutical processes and GMPs. It is fully automated and its operation is fully embedded in our highly automated facility. One example of this is that the wood pellets can be automatically transported into the boiler via pneumatic hoppers which is much cleaner and eliminates manual handling.”

Local Expertise

With such advanced technologies implemented, you might think the Freiburg team had to scour the globe looking for experts, but in fact the expertise needed was found locally, as Becker explains, “Freiburg is know as the "Green City" of Germany meaning there are a lot of companies with expertise in "Green Technologies" and we used that benefit to work with different vendors and the (local) university. In this case we had a very agile partner on site and all the systems we installed were "Right First Time". That meant timelines were met, targets were achieved and very importantly; continuous improvement processes could be adapted to increase efficiencies.”

Judges Reaction

The Facility of the Year Award judges were obviously impressed with Pfizer’s accomplishments at Freiburg. In fact, in their comments the judges said that in their opinion this project is truly what sustainability is all about. Adding that they were most impressed with how Freiburg engineered a long term sustainability program that is unparalleled in pharmaceutical manufacturing. 

The facility has received a lot attention both from within Pfizer and from other pharmaceutical companies. “Freiburg is seen as a ‘Green Lighthouse’ within Pfizer,” says Becker. “We have a lot of visitors looking at the technologies - from within and also external companies. We try to help them with our experience.” 

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