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Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America Wins Managing Automation's Progressive Manufacturing (PM 100) Award for Sustainability Leadership.

TUALATIN, Ore., May 5 /PRNewswire/ -- Sustainability leadership frequently falls to those who are willing to think differently and embrace change while others cling to the status quo. As the originator of lean manufacturing, Toyota has built its corporate culture on the premise of productive change. As part of its continuous improvement philosophy, the carmaker constantly assesses its operational processes and discards those that do not deliver value to its customers and the world in which it works.

Toyota aims for growth that is in harmony with the environment by seeking to minimize the environmental impact of its business operations. Activities include responsible use of natural resources and working to reduce the effect of its vehicles and operations on climate change and biodiversity.

Recently, the Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing "CAPTIN" plant in Vancouver, British Columbia, demonstrated its ability to change the way it impacted the environment by pursuing a new path of emissions reduction. The CAPTIN facility houses a part of Toyota's North American wheel casting operations. One particular process involves painting the wheels in booth enclosures. The painting process results in emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). To comply with emission regulations and other air quality standards, Toyota and its fellow automakers have traditionally used thermal oxidizer technology which destroys VOCs by using incineration (high temp) to break down the VOCs by use of incineration.

During CAPTIN's recent expansion the Company investigated a relatively new technology called bio-oxidation. This technology was recognized by Tim Gurren, Assistant Manager, who represents the Production Engineering division of Toyota Engineering Motor Manufacturing North America (TEMA). At an Air & Waste Management industry conference in May 2005, Mr. Gurren met representatives from Bio-Reaction Industries, which makes an advanced type of biofilter (bio-oxidizer) which uses naturally occurring soil based microbes to eat organic materials (such as paint VOCs).

"Toyota is a very forward-thinking company," says Bio-Reaction's CEO Karl Mundorff. "They are always out in the marketplace to see what the latest technology is and how that could apply to what they're doing."

The rationale for selecting the Bio-Reaction technology was twofold. Toyota knew that by using the system it would avoid the use of natural gas, the main fuel source for the more traditional thermal oxidizer, and that such a reduction would cut the company's emissions of greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide. Toyota determined its up-front cost would be slightly elevated but the savings in natural gas cost and general operating cost would be close to a two year payback on investment. These incentives also perfectly aligned with Toyota's Global Five Year Environmental Reduction Plan: To reduce the impact on the environment through more responsible use of natural resources, continuous pursuit of innovative technology, and to boost the company's own sustainability.

To put the technology in perspective, consider the environmental implications of a paint booth such as the one Toyota was building at CAPTIN: The paint process itself creates VOCs. Because local regulations limit the amount of VOCs that can be released into the atmosphere, companies must enlist technology that destroys those VOCs. But in the process of destroying them with conventional thermal oxidizer technology, a company burns huge quantities of natural gas (a limited natural resources), which releases greenhouse gases such as CO2 and NOx into the air.

"In reality you create 4 to 5 times more pollutants by the combustion of natural gas than you have treated in that [paint-based] air stream," Mundorff explains. With the conventional technology, the CAPTIN plant would have measured its CO2 emissions in thousands of tons per year. With the bio-based system, they measure that output in the low hundreds -- 90% less than what they would have otherwise emitted into the atmosphere annually.

The effort is a telling example of Toyota's pledge to embrace the "spirit" of continuous improvement or "Kaizen" and their continuing effort to reduce their footprint on the environment. As Tim Gurren stated, "most of the approval process success needs to be given to the CAPTIN personnel and the regulatory representatives." Working with regulators instead of against them is what truly moved this forward, both sides made a groundbreaking decision without sacrificing quality or the environment.

The company has also been a leader in sustainable practices for many years, and its Toyota Production System, which emphasizes responsible use of natural resources and elimination of waste, has been a guiding principle for decades and Toyota continues its long-term relationship with a healthy environment.

The installation of the bio-reaction system illustrated perfectly the following statement in Toyota's "Contribution toward Sustainable Development" document: "We comply with local, national and international laws and regulations, as well as the spirit thereof, and we conduct our business operations with honesty and integrity."

Embracing the "spirit" of environmental regulations goes beyond observing the letter of the law. In the case of Toyota's installation of the Bio-Reactor technology, that distinction had an important impact.

"Since the year and a half since it's been up and running," Gurren says, "there really hasn't been any waste shipped off site from the bio bed" or the unit itself. "As a process, it's basically using recycled water and naturally occurring resources, and there's really no waste from it."

A thermal oxidizer system at the CAPTIN plant would have consumed 19,000 mmBtus of energy per year. The bioreactor's annual energy consumption is 500 mmBtus.

The system also saves on maintenance costs. Since the metal construction of a thermal oxidizer system is exposed to searing heat, it experiences a relatively high rate of metal fatigue, which in turn requires maintenance expenditures from the company running the reactor. With Bio-Reaction's natural treatment process, Toyota was able to realize a significant cost reduction by being environmentally responsible.

SOURCE Bio-Reaction Industries, LLC
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Publication:PR Newswire
Date:May 5, 2010
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