Hitachi Energy’s largest North American plant aims to prioritize sustainable practices.
When people in Mid-Missouri think about how sustainable practices resonate through the work of local manufacturers, it may be hard to imagine just how far-reaching the impact of that work can get. But there’s an actual giant on that front right across the Missouri River from Jefferson City.
Hitachi Energy, a global technology leader aiming to develop the energy system across multiple industries and create a carbon-neutral future, acquired a plant just a couple years ago that was originally built by Westinghouse in 1972 and later became ABB. The Jefferson City Hitachi Energy plant manufactures electrical transformers used to support the nation’s power grid and for renewable energy sources like wind and solar. It’s actually the largest of Hitachi’s North American manufacturing plants and one of the biggest in the world, according to the plant’s environmental manager, Cole Hough. It’s also effectively 100%carbon-neutral, and Cole says there’s a laundry list of actions that go into that effort.
The company has a stellar reputation for sustainability, and for good reason. In fact, the Jefferson City plant recently received the Missouri Water Environment Association’s (MWEA) 2021 Industrial Wastewater Committee Pretreatment Award. The MWEA is a nonprofit organization of water quality professionals. The group — made up of both public and private sector members — is dedicated to the preservation and enhancement of water quality, water resources, and the relationship of those resources to the environment. Hitachi Energy was nominated for its significant investments in improving the Jefferson City factory’s pretreatment system in recent years. According to Cole, that system essentially adjusts the pH of wastewater from their paint primer area to a safe, acceptable level before discharging the wastewater into Jefferson City’s sewer system. The system, which began upgrades three years ago, also eliminates foaming that can cause issues with the sewer plant, Cole says.
“The upgrades to the wastewater treatment system has helped theJefferson City site stay within permit parameters and enhanced the sustainability of the overall system.”Cole Hough
On the outside, they constructed a stormwater diversion ditch that serves as an infiltration basin. There are two main benefits to this. First, any stormwater that does not run into stormwater drains and flows toward the perimeter of the property will run into the diversion ditch and flow into the retention pond. Any suspended sediment, dirt, or debris in water flowing through the ditch has time to settle out of the water before entering the retention pond or being discharged off-site (stormwater pollutants aren’t just oil and chemicals, but also dirt and debris on the pavement), and sediment is actually the most common water pollutant.
Second, while all of their oil storage tanks are required to have secondary containment (e.g., a concrete wall around the tanks), the diversion ditch and retention pond act as an additional layer of protection. In the event that a potential pollutant may be spilled or leaked onto the ground, the retention pond acts as a final failsafe to prevent discharge into the environment. There are multiple methods to allow Hitachi Energy to remove the pollutant from the retention pond so it is not discharged off the property into the environment.
The plant also processes large quantities of paint waste per year. Anon-site solvent distillation unit reclaims approximately 40% that can be reused in the manufacturer process.
“Whenever you paint, you’ve got to clean out the paint guns, hoses, and all of the equipment, and there’s the risk of paint spills,” Cole says. “The majority of the hazardous waste from the plant is paint waste — and it’s considered hazardous because of its flammability. So it’s critical that we have the right procedures in place to effectively manage any spills.”
But that’s where the solvent distillation unit comes into play. In layman’s terms, it prevents the hazardous waste from being sent off to be incinerated or put in a landfill. And Cole says the innovations don’t stop there. Starting about two years ago, any small amount of waste that couldn’t be processed through the system was sent for secondary distillation to cook out more solvent. After the secondary process, it helps them qualify formerly hazardous waste as what Cole calls “hazardous secondary material.” The domino effect is the plant’s actual hazardous waste generation has dropped dramatically in recent years. On a month-to-month basis, Cole says that means the amount of hazardous waste remaining is significantly reduced, or even none at all.
It’s no surprise that Cole says this isn’t the only way Hitachi Energy is working to remain sustainable. There’s also the fact that the plant uses biodegradable oil in a large portion of the transformers they produce every day — about 60%, depending on the day.“ The majority of oil that we offer customers is biodegradable — which is much more sustainable for the environment overall.” The plant prides itself on recycling oils. There is a system that separates any water that was introduced to the oil to make it more pure for the recycling process.
The plant is 660,000 square feet, so lighting conversion also plays a major role in its sustainable practices. Everything in the plant has been switched over to high-efficiency LED and motion-sensor lighting— no more mercury lamps or incandescent lighting. Hitachi Energy also works with Ameren in partnership on that front. Cole says it aligns with much of Ameren’s messaging about making similar lighting changes but on a residential level.
Hitachi Energy uses absorbent mats, which are used primarily to soak up any oil or water spills inside the facility. After use, these are collected by their waste company and processed as “waste to energy.” This means they are incinerated in order to heat up water to create steam to generate electricity. Instead of sending this to a landfill where the oil could potentially mix with groundwater, they are using it to generate electricity.
“Jeff City is the company’s biggest plant in NorthAmerica, and one of the biggest in Hitachi Energy worldwide.”Cole Hough
The plant tracks its waste diversion rate or the amount of general waste that ends up in a landfill. That could be anything from scrap metal — which is actually recycled — to bathroom trash. As it stands, the only waste coming from the plant and going to a landfill is trash from bathrooms and the cafeteria. “We try to have absolutely none of our waste go to a landfill,” Cole says. “The only reason why the bathroom waste actually has to go to landfill, and not the incinerator, is regulations since there can be human sanitary waste in it. Everything else is either recycled or we get energy reclamation out of it.”
The plant aims to align with the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda (https://sdgs.un.org/2030agenda), which lays out a wide variety of sustainability goals countries have agreed to work toward by the year 2030. Hitachi Energy, the company is committed to those same goals.
“Part of that is we, the entire corporation, want to be carbon-neutral by 2030,” Cole says. “Jeff City has the company’s biggest plant in North America, and one of the biggest in Hitachi Energy worldwide. Therefore, the site has this objective as one of our strategic initiatives moving forward.”
The goal moving forward, Cole says, is to create more sustainable options to reduce the factory’s CO2 emissions, and as a result, reducing the overall energy required to operate the plant.
“A lot of the stuff that you’d think of as easy — like why don’t we just put solar panels on the roof. But the amount of solar panels to power this place, basically as far as you can see all the way around on the property, would have to be covered in solar panels to keep up. Same with wind turbines. We would have to have a full-blown wind farm just for this plant.”
But Cole says there are a lot of other smaller steps that can move the plant in that direction. Perhaps just a portion of the plant has solar panels installed, so something like the plant’s warehouse room is fully solar-powered, for example.
“We try to have absolutely none of our waste goto a landfill.”Cole Hough
The Jefferson City plant is implementing sustainability policies signed off by Hitachi Energy’s top brass. There’s a lot of push and support from that level, in fact. That support is helped by the amount of global corporate folks that actually work out of the Jefferson City plant due to it being the largest on the continent, and a lot of those people are onsite and acting as a more tangible link to the global company.
“It’s a huge, clearly written public commitment. We want our Jefferson City plant to be a benchmark for every company’s dedication to sustainability. And when you work here, you feel proud to be part of that type of commitment,” Cole says