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The end of an era: Geiss looks at the alternatives to trichloroethylene now that its use has finally come to an end.

So it finally happened; after years of reviews, product reclassification and argument (both rational and otherwise), trichloroethylene as a solvent species arrived on Annex. 14 of the REACH Regulations this month. The latest phase out or "sunset" date will be 36 months from now whereupon all operators will be required to substitute an alternative.

It must be said that the demise of trichloroethylene has, to a certain extent, been exacerbated by its misuse. The continued utilisation of poor "tank" type systems originally designed for the less onerous 1.1.1 trichloroethane, the miss selling of the solvent itself--a marketing philosophy based more upon traditional volume sales rather than best advice values and finally the reluctance of operators to invest in modern technology have all contributed to an increasing awareness of the product's weaknesses in an industrial environment where Health & Safety and environmental issues have risen inexorably to the top of the political agenda.

Cutting through the confusion

Can operators continue to use trichloroethylene after the sunset date? Alas confusion once again abounds. Some will interpret the new sunset date as the final chance to bring their operation in line with compliance criteria. Of course this is incorrect. All operators should have been fully compliant in line with the deadline set out long ago in both EU and UK legislation on VOC's. The new and most pertinent question is whether exemption from the requirements of Annex. 14 is possible. In simplified terms there has long been a requirement under existing legislation that operators must substitute trichloroethylene "wherever possible" and "at the earliest opportunity". Of course this has been very much open to convenient interpretation. One of the main drivers has long been the requirements for trichloroethylene to be used for the vapour degreasing of titanium in certain aerospace applications. With the approval of Rolls-Royce aerospace of modified alcohols such as Geiss RG63 clearly substitution in this industry is now possible. The dilemma for many operators having already (even recently) invested in systems designed to operate at ambient pressure only (suddenly?) is now painfully clear. Operators wishing to continue to use trichloroethylene after the sunset date must apply for authorisation no later than 18 months following its inclusion in Annex. 14 i.e. September 2014. It is known that any license, if granted, would cost a six figure sum. The market is even aware of some suppliers intention to apply for a "blanket" license to continue to supply trichloroethylene even when alternatives are clearly available. Of course with the volumes supplied potentially being close to zero, the question of cost of continued availability for the operator and, indeed, commercial viability for the supplier will then become the all consuming questions.

Substitution well in advance of the sunset date must be the key

A logical choice for many will be a switch to another of the chlorinated family being perchloroethylene, a solvent which is also very happy to work under ambient pressure conditions (although vacuum distillation and by-pass distillation maximises performance and economy). However, whilst many existing double lidded or enclosed systems cannot be deemed to be "compliant at source" i.e. by bringing consumption to <100 grams/hour (rounded to the now famous one tonne threshold limit) there still remains the possibility of successful conversion. Providing all Health & Safety and environmental legislation, particularly the Solvent Emissions (England & Wales) Regulations 2004, are strictly followed existing systems can often be converted to accommodate perchloroethylene at relatively modest cost by companies such as Standard Industrial Cleaning Systems Ltd. This will certainly involve changing temperature parameters in order to allow for the increase in boiling point from the 87 degrees Celsius associated with trichloroethylene to 121 degrees Celsius for perchloroethylene. Associated sensors and safety features will also require adjustment but the most significant addition will often be the inclusion of a non-regenerable (sacrificial) carbon system which will abate emissions to atmosphere to the required limit of 20 mg/[m.sup.3]. Compare this to the limit for trichloroethylene of 2 mg/m3 and the achievability of a compliance with perchloroethylene is readily acknowledged.

The arguments for alternative solvents such as normal Propyl Bromide (nPB) and methylene chloride still continue but close examination of the toxicity issues (R60) associated with the former and abatement problems with the latter render such products questionable at the very least. One must consider the proven science and official classifications and not the claims made by overzealous sales and marketing people.

The changing philosophy of solvent supply

Clearly the volumes of organic halogenated hydrocarbons used in surface cleaning and degreasing within the western world have decreased significantly in the last few years. The massively reduced requirements of modern hermetically sealed systems supplied by German manufacturers such as Karl Roll GmbH incorporating vacuum distillation and by-pass distillation demonstrate frugality in the extreme. Volumes will continue to decline and the real future will be service orientated.

Geiss UK was formed two years ago as the exclusive UK distributor for Richard Geiss GmbH, one of Germany's leading producers of high quality, highly stabilised cleaning and degreasing solvents and Europe's largest recycler of both halogenated and non halogenated products. A family company established over fifty years ago, Richard Geiss GmbH is now under the control of its third generation of CEO's, Mr. Bastian Geiss. The company has a philosophy of personal contact, sound and unbiased advice and service at the highest level which includes, for clients both current and potential, the availability of one of Europe's most comprehensive on-site analytical laboratory facilities.

Sustainability and responsibility

Organic solvents constitute a finite resource. Traditionally a significant amount of used product has been disposed of by incineration--surely the antithesis of a progressive industry with sustainability at its core. Effective recycling produces ultra pure solvents which contribute significantly to reduced CO2 emissions and lead to a favourable carbon footprint as well as a cost effective and resource conscious material for the operator.

The demise of trichloroethylene has been debated for many years--the argument is officially over and the way forward is more clear than ever.

Solvent degreasing in efficient plant remains the most environmentally friendly form of industrial component cleaning. The practice of supply, support and certificated waste removal and processing by Geiss UK provides the operator with the confidence to know he is involved in a truly sustainable process with service at its core--the future is guaranteed.
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Title Annotation:SOLVENTS
Date:May 1, 2013
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