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Old 08-04-2004, 06:59   #1 (permalink)
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US:Ford engineers produce power from paint fumes

Ford engineers produce power from paint fumes

New process could save firm millions


Paint sprayer Sharna Bennett paints a truck at the Dearborn assembly site. The fumes are collected and reformed to help power a small bank of lights.

By Eric Mayne / The Detroit News

For years, automakers have sought ways to safely eradicate or reuse paint fumes generated when the protective finish is applied to new cars and trucks.

Now, Ford Motor Co. engineers think they have an answer.

Encouraged by early test results, the automaker is expanding a groundbreaking system that produces electricity from the toxic fumes.

The system collects fumes from an assembly plant’s paint shop and extracts volatile organic compounds that are normally incinerated because of their toxicity. The harmful compounds are then concentrated and used to power a generator that produces electricity for the plant.

Ford will install the technology at its Michigan Truck plant in Wayne during the first quarter of 2005. Though its output will be modest — powering lights in a single paint booth — the system will be 10 times larger than the experimental unit that debuted last year at Ford’s Dearborn assembly site.

If it proves reliable, it could be worth millions of dollars to Ford in cost-savings and licensing fees.

“We’re going to make a big step here,” said Mark Wherrett, principle environmental engineer at Ford and co-developer of the system. “It ultimately could provide a third of the plant’s power.”

In a bullish sign, Ford and partner Detroit Edison have filed to have the system patented and hope to license it to other users.

“We actually have quite a number of nibbles,” Wherrett said. “What they’re all waiting on is to see the Michigan Truck installation first.”

The Wayne site’s system will differ from the one in place at the Rouge factory complex in Dearborn.

The Dearborn system powers a small bank of lights for test purposes from a fuel cell. The Wayne site will be anchored by a Stirling engine, commonly used for power generation because its unique combustion process is cleaner than diesel and other petroleum-based technologies.

“Fuel cells have not come down in price as we had hoped,” Wherrett said.

The electricity output from a fuel cell system would cost more than $15,000 per kilowatt, compared with $1,100 per kilowatt for Michigan Truck’s proposed Stirling engine system.

That’s still higher than the 5-cents-per-kilowatt power available from a wall plug, but the cost doesn’t include other savings, Wherrett said.

In a bullish sign, Ford and partner Detroit Edison have filed to have the system patented and hope to license it to other users.

“We actually have quite a number of nibbles,” Wherrett said. “What they’re all waiting on is to see the Michigan Truck installation first.”

The Wayne site’s system will differ from the one in place at the Rouge factory complex in Dearborn.

The Dearborn system powers a small bank of lights for test purposes from a fuel cell. The Wayne site will be anchored by a Stirling engine, commonly used for power generation because its unique combustion process is cleaner than diesel and other petroleum-based technologies.

“Fuel cells have not come down in price as we had hoped,” Wherrett said.

The electricity output from a fuel cell system would cost more than $15,000 per kilowatt, compared with $1,100 per kilowatt for Michigan Truck’s proposed Stirling engine system.

That’s still higher than the 5-cents-per-kilowatt power available from a wall plug, but the cost doesn’t include other savings, Wherrett said.

Because it recycles volatile organic compounds, Ford is able to reduce consumption of natural gas used to incinerate paint fumes.

If all its Michigan assembly plants were equipped with the system, Ford says it could save 300 million cubic feet of natural gas annually.

Reducing incineration activity also cuts down on harmful plant emissions - a goal of the automaker. In 2003, carbon dioxide emissions from Ford plants rose worldwide.

Because it handles volatile organic compounds, the new Ford system might also signal a shift away from water-based paint products, which could create savings in the painting process.

“Water-based materials require longer bake times, longer application processes and more material usage to get the same finish,” said Andy Hobbs, director of Ford’s environmental quality office.

Earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency recognized the Ford system with an award for its “impact, innovation and replicability.”

Suppliers have also stepped up with compatible technologies. DuPont Automotive Systems has developed new paint that makes volatile organic compounds easier to collect.

“The total concept of generating energy through your painting costs is interesting,” said Mark A. Wagoner, DuPont’s global business director. “You’re generating electricity from a process you have to do anyway.”

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