Executive Summary

When assessing the vast chemical industry, it is usually not advisable to deal in generalities. However, as a base for the market's examination, Beth Beloof and Marianne Lines, authors of the recent book Transforming Sustainability Strategy into Action: The Chemical Industry, provide a base for the market's examination: "The impact of the chemical industry is felt in every area of commerce, as chemicals are ubiquitous in all value chains and affect all ecosystems, no matter how seemingly pristine, on the planet."

That said, if we may indulge in one more generality, the chemical market has seen better years than 2009. In fact, a portend of the struggles that 2009 would bring was presented in late 2008 by Trey Hamblet, vice president for chemical processing for Industrial Info Resources (Sugar Land, Texas). In a presentation in December 2008, Hamblet announced that many of the chemical processing industry's 4,000 operational plants-reacting to the dire economic forecasts that resulted from the September 2008 banking crisis-would consider major cutbacks, closures and capacity consolidation. Hamblet did predict, optimistically, that these actions would only be instituted as a buffer against potentially crippling shutdowns.

With that in mind, what is the state of the chemical industry as 2009 fades into the rearview mirror? While the economy did mandate belt-tightening across the board, most firms were able to weather the economic storm-which appears to be modifying-because they had already begun to incorporate sustainability.

Pumping Up the Bottom Line

In 1987, The World Commission on Environment and Development defined sustainability as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." This corporate sustainability movement has gained momentum in recent years as many facility managers, regardless of the industry, have undertaken a top-to-bottom review of their operations, through which they have identified inefficiencies and taken the appropriate steps to eliminate them.

This is crucial as it relates to the chemical industry. Chemical manufacturing is precise with numerous formulations needed to be constructed according to a specific process. Industrial pumps play a major role in this manufacturing process. According to the United States Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), the industrial sector consumes 33.6 percent of all energy used in the United States. Various reports state that pumping systems-the second-most widely used machines in the world after motors-account for anywhere between 27 and 33 percent of the total electricity used in the industrial sector.

Realizing this, manufacturers of pumps used in chemical processing have begun to eliminate the inefficiencies in pump design that can drag down revenue and profits for manufacturing clients. By offering technological improvements in the following areas, pump manufacturers have provided their clients in the chemical market with the blueprint for bottom-line-friendly sustainability in their operations.

Energy Use

Everybody is looking to cut energy costs. The following technological improvements, if used properly, can help a manufacturer lower a plant's energy consumption:

  • More manufacturers are building pumps that incorporate variable frequency drives (VFDs). These pumps use electricity instead of hydraulics to create a system that controls the rotational speed of the electric motor by controlling the electrical power supplied to the motor. A VFD requires low frequency and voltage to start, and when it is running, the frequency and voltage are increased at a controlled rate without the need for excessive current.
  • If you have a size 10 foot, why would you buy size 13 shoes? Too often, plants install pumps that are larger than necessary "just in case." However, three or four years down the road, too many are still using the same oversized pumps although production data has shown that a smaller, more energy-efficient pump will work as well. Pump size does matter.
  • Manufacturers must identify and use technologies that are inherently more energy efficient. For example, through the use of a number of vanes that slide in or out of slots in the pump rotor, positive-displacement sliding vane pumps have proven more energy efficient than gear pumps.
  • The small breakdowns that seem inevitable in any extensive pumping application affect revenue due to downtime and repair costs. These maintenance expenses can be lessened, however, if the correct type and size of pump is used for the appropriate application. A little legwork at the beginning of the process can usually eliminate some future headaches.
  • Walk into many plants and-admittedly in many cases by necessity-the piping has not been optimally designed. Not only can this be an eyesore, but inadequate air flow due to poorly designed air systems can decrease efficiency and increase costs. Pumping technology that helps eliminate the inefficient use of air will help the bottom line.

Environmental Concerns

The corporate-sustainability movement closely relates to the green movement that dictates that all operations must be as environmentally friendly as possible. While being energy efficient is a key green component, safely handling the myriad products used in chemical processing is also a primary concern.

More pump manufacturers are developing technologies that address the concerns associated with product handling. One chief concern is a chemical spill polluting the environment, or creating a safety hazard for plant personnel. To assuage these concerns, forward-thinking pump manufacturers are creating pumps that feature sealless construction. Pumps without seals are less susceptible to leaks. Advances in sealless technology are being incorporated into pumps that can handle the strict requirements of chemical manufacturing.


While the chemical industry will always remain a major player in the world's economy, improvements in pump construction and operation will optimize the industry's efficiency.

Pumps & Systems, February 2010