UV Light Technology – A Cleantech Breakthrough

uv-light-technologyIn the summer of 1854, London experienced an especially virulent outbreak of cholera, a water-borne disease that even today kills over a hundred thousand people every year. However, in 1854, the population was unaware that cholera was caused by bacteria, and assumed that the suffering was the result of exposure to bad air or was a punishment for sin. It was only through the painstaking detective work of physician John Snow that the cause of the outbreak was determined and the source of contamination was pinpointed. Eventually the authorities were persuaded to remove the pump handle atop the well that contained cholera bacteria, and illness in the population quickly diminished.

As a result of Snow’s work and diligence, the City of London designed and built a new water and sewer system to ensure a clean water supply. Worldwide, the discovery of disease-causing bacteria in water led to scientific advancements in water treatment including filtration and chlorination. Currently in places with advanced water treatment facilities, water-borne cholera is largely unknown. In most underdeveloped nations, however, it still strikes regularly, affecting three to five million people a year. It also reappears as a result of disaster, either man-made or naturally occurring. After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, cholera hospitalized or killed tens of thousands of people, and it’s estimated that more than 6 percent of Haitians have the disease even now. If you think cholera is a danger of the past, it isn’t.

Anyone aware of the ever-present need for clean sources of water worldwide will be encouraged by the cleantech breakthroughs involving ultraviolet light as a method for cleaning water.  Researchers and engineers who work with UV light have discovered that this is a simple and inexpensive way to disinfect water and can easily be used in places where both water and advanced technology are scarce. Essentially UV light alters bacterial DNA, making it unable to function or reproduce.

Obviously UV light is not a one stop solution for all water contamination. Water treatment systems must meet stringent water quality criteria and filter for chemicals and heavy metals. Other diseases, like Ebola, are viral, not bacterial, and will require different kinds of disinfecting. But the growing evidence of more possibilities for solving cleanliness problems via the use of naturally occurring phenomena, whether light or biological organisms, is very promising.

We at AEC Systems look forward to seeing what researchers will discover in 2015 that will eventually affect all of our lives for the better, and we wish a very happy new year to all of our customers and readers! Best wishes to you all!

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Understanding Green Chemistry

green-chemistryWhat is green chemistry? By one definition it’s “finding creative and innovative ways to reduce waste, conserve energy, and discover replacements for hazardous substances.”

The 20th Century saw staggering advances in chemistry and chemical engineering. The ways that new chemicals were put to use changed human history and society in drastic ways that most people living now can’t fully comprehend. Just two examples of pioneering chemistry – the creation of antibiotics and chemical fertilizers – radically shifted the way people today think about surviving, thriving in, and changing their world.

Unfortunately, many of these chemical breakthroughs have unforeseen consequences and highly negative consequences for environmental and human health. Some of those consequences were immediately evident: animal populations experienced rapid die off, fetuses exposed to certain drugs did not develop normally, crops failed. Other problems, like long-term mental impairment from solvent exposure, researchers are still studying and trying to understand. Green chemistry is the contemporary attempt to understand the results of last century’s great chemistry experiment and then altering the chemistry involved to derive more benign or even beneficial ways to solve problems and create solutions in our everyday lives.

AEC Systems is always looking for these types of solutions. We strive continuously toward a zero waste goal in our parts washers – zero waste meaning no impact on the environment, nothing to dispose of, no emissions, not even heat results from our parts cleaning systems. We are very interested in possible and potential uses for green solvents, which are solvents made of vegetable processing extracts that can be used to clean or degrease. The green chemistry at work in finding methods of bioremediation for chemical or oil spills is something we anticipate being able to use in other ways in the future to solve problems that are perhaps not as tragic, but are still sticky and troublesome.

If scientists can produce chemical solutions that will prevent pollution or other negative environmental impact in the first place, there will be nothing to monitor, regulate, or clean up. Over time these innovations can only lead to safer products that can be manufactured at lesser expense. The American Chemical Society has developed 12 Principles of Green Chemistry. They are:

  • Prevention
  • Atom Economy
  • Less Hazardous Chemical Syntheses
  • Designing Safer Chemicals
  • Safer Solvents and Auxiliaries
  • Design for Energy Efficiency
  • Use of Renewable Feedstocks
  • Reduce Derivatives
  • Catalysis
  • Design for Degradation
  • Real-time Analysis for Pollution Prevention
  • Inherently Safer Chemistry for Accident Prevention

These principles are critical to the development of a better, healthier future for everyone, and, frankly, it’s an exciting time to be involved in chemical innovation and problem solving.

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Surfactants Are Safe

Studies indicate that surfactants, have long been considered a threat to the environment, are actually benign in terms of their overall effect on water quality and fragile ecosystems.

surfactants

Surfactants, short for surface active agents and defined as “compounds that lower the surface tension (or interfacial tension) between two liquids or between a liquid and a solid,” act as detergents, emulsifiers, dispersants, foaming agents, and wetting agents. In practice, most people know surfactants as soaps, shampoos, and detergents, and they use them to clean and remove grease and grime from clothing, dishes, and any number of other items.

Surfactants are able to remove dirt and oils because they are water soluble but can, at the same time, dissolve fats. This is because surfactant molecules have hydrophilic heads and a hydrophobic tails; their hydrophilic heads are polar and are attracted by the molecules of polar solvents such as water.  Their hydrophobic tails are non-polar and are repelled by water molecules. So soap molecules function as a bridge between water molecules and fat molecules, enabling oils, suspended in solution, to be washed away in a stream of water.

Aqueous parts washers rely on surfactants to clean grease, grime, dirt, oil, and swarf from the parts they are designed to clean. The aqueous process was designed to replace the use of solvents, which can have numerous negative and long-term health consequences, with water-based chemicals. The result is an environmentally friendly cleaning process that does not pose a health risk to workers or give off poisonous fumes or other undesirable byproducts.

Surfactants have been maligned by environmentalists for decades as having too much of a negative impact on water and aquatic animal populations, and yet humans use millions of tons of surfactants annually. Now, as the results of more than 250 studies done over decades have been compiled, the conclusion researchers have reached is that, when used correctly in water that is filtered through proper water treatment facilities, surfactants are safe. This is because they degrade so rapidly once they are used.
This is good news for anyone who likes clean clothes, clean dishes, or clean hair, not to mention cleaned auto parts or machined pieces. If surfactants are safe to use, we can care for and properly maintain any number of things while being, at the same time, environmentally responsible. If only all man-made cleaning products were as benign as surfactants are!

By: Ryan Westphal

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Dip Tank Technology for Low Waste in the Parts Cleaning Industry

As manufacturers move closer toward zero waste business models, the technology required become, necessarily, more advanced and complex.

Dip Tank Technology

Back in 2010 Volkswagon established a $30 million eco-friendly paint shop in its Chattanooga, TN assembly plant as a part of its process of becoming a more environmentally friendly company. The paint coating process was designed to produce essentially no waste and use 60% less energy than traditional paint processes. This was accomplished in part by employing dip-tank technology. All air in the shop was filtered and recirculated.

Now in Poland another paint shop will be under construction using the same methods. Durr Building Paint Shop From Ground Up will be built in Wrzesnia in 2016 in order to assemble the successor to the Volkswagon Crafter van.

Although Volkswagon is on the forefront of high technology use in the automobile industry, they are certainly not the only manufacturer using this dip-tank process. Hiab, part of Cargtec, again based in Poland, is also using dip-tank technology to apply an anti-corrosion layer to the cranes it manufacturers. This is the first in a three-step process, and the dip tank is used in order to assure that even difficult to access areas and cavities will be protected with the applied anti-corrosion coating. Again, Hiab will achieve significant energy and water savings and will produce virtually no waste by designing its process this way.

AEC Systems is proud to be involved in continuous improvement manufacturing, working to limit waste and toxic chemicals in the parts cleaning industry. The part cleaners we design tend to be smaller than those built to coat car frames and cranes, but the advances that engineers make in the auto and construction industries can only be of help to all researchers and engineers. AEC frequently employs dip tank technology in the industrial part washers we create for our customers – who are also invested in controlling corrosion in their manufactured products. We are always excited to learn of new research and development in this field.

By: Ryan Westphal

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CDC Cleanliness Specs for Dealing with Ebola Virus

Cleaning SpecsAEC Systems regularly tackles projects for clients whose needs require complicated cleaning strategies and cleanliness specs, but the healthcare industry relies entirely on stringent cleaning and disinfection specifications. For them, clean is quite literally life or death.

Recent reports regarding the Ebola outbreak in the countries of West Africa are very concerning. Not only does this strain of Ebola seem to be more virulent than all previous strains, large numbers of medical personnel are perishing fighting it. Thus far more than 240 health care workers have contracted the Ebola virus and more than 120 of them have died from it. Without trained medical personnel, the average patient with Ebola in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, or Nigeria will have even less of a chance to survive this deadly disease and will be more likely to pass it along to his family members and neighbors.

Fortunately, Ebola is not an airborne virus. Like HIV, it’s transmitted through blood and bodily fluids. This means that casual contact with a patient with Ebola will not be at risk. However, the disease itself often produces diarrhea, vomiting, and hemorrhaging all of which introduce the virus to anyone treating the patient or dealing with waste removal.

Hospitals in America are beginning to examine their strategies for fighting Ebola if it should emerge in the population here. Typically, these would include quarantine and palliative measures to fight symptoms such as dehydration and fever as Ebola has no cure and no real treatments at this time. The most important way to deal with Ebola is to limit the outbreak as carefully as possible. During an epidemic, medical personnel run up against two difficulties: a shortage of medicines and medical supplies and finding ways to dispose of waste and clean medical equipment.

Guidelines like the University of Texas Medical Branch’s Cleaning, Sterilization, High-Level Disinfection and Storage of Patient Care Devices and Other Items offer detailed instructions for accomplishing and maintaining sterile equipment and facilities to enable medical personnel to be able to attend to patients. However, having guidelines such as these in place will not be sufficient if staff are not adequately trained in them and well designed cleaning and sterilization equipment has not already been installed and implemented. In a true epidemic, transportation quickly becomes problematic, and much of the cleaning and sterilization of garments and tools can not be outsourced. It must be done onsite.

We can all hope that this Ebola outbreak will not spread further and officials and doctors will be able to aid the people of West Africa, but this situation demonstrates the need to prepare people and cleaning systems well in advance of medical risks in order to deal with them effectively.

By: Ryan Westphal

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How Do I Remove Swarf and Produce as Little Waste as Possible?

SwarfA number of AEC Systems clients have needed parts washers designed to clean recently turned or machined parts, and with these types of products swarf typically is an issue. Swarf, for the unfamiliar, is “material (as metallic particles and abrasive fragments) removed by a cutting or grinding tool.

It is not always easy to remove swarf, particularly when the parts involved have complex geometries. Another consideration is waste. Because of increasing EPA regulation of waste generation in industrial parts washing, it is critical to design systems that come as close as possible to being zero waste producers. For this reason, it is encouraging to see processes, such as the one recently demonstrated in Fagersta, Sweden, that are designed to recycle swarf and oil.

Mireco AB in Sweden built a plant that would allow for the briquetting of oil-drenched swarf captured from a steel polishing process. Previously, this swarf would have gone to a landfill, but the reclaiming of the swarf through briquetting allows for the steel waste products to be reused, accomplishing two complementary goals: waste reduction and resource recycling.

While the initial waste recovery was less than hoped for, Mireco’s own customers have implemented this technology on site in their own plants, and Mireco’s original briquette press is now being used for other metals, such as aluminum foil produce as a byproduct from battery manufacturing.

Other technologies for cleaning and removing swarf are also emerging, including one that utilizes an aqueous surfactant washing technique and another that uses supercritical carbon dioxide extraction. Complicating the evaluating process, cost-benefit analyses of these competing technologies must factor in the regulatory environments in which they would be used. In places that regulate swarf as hazardous waste, there is additional incentive to find further ways to reduce landfilling and produce usable metal material for industrial reuse.

Since one important goal of AEC Systems is to continuously update our knowledge base to help our clients balance profitability and regulatory considerations, it is encouraging to see new technologies emerge, particularly those with industrial parts washers applications. If your company needs assistance in creating a cleaning process to remove swarf and oil from machined parts, please contact us today, so we begin developing a solution together.

By: Ryan Westphal

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AEC Understands the Consequences of Solvent Exposure in Parts Cleaning

Solvent Parts CleaningAEC Systems understands that we live in a world filled with dirt and grime and that our clients, whether they are in manufacturing, small engine repair, construction, automotive, or the oil and mining industries, battle this every day in order to maintain services or production to specification. EPA regulation continuously challenges business to do better with less damage, to leave a lighter tread mark, if you will, on this earth, and AEC remains committed to both thorough parts cleaning and stringent environmental standards.

Our parts washers are solvent free, and this is deliberate. Aqueous cleaning, which uses heat, water, and corrosion-free detergents, is a much more environmentally friendly alternative to solvents which are frequently harmful, or even poisonous, to the people and environments exposed to them.

Previously solvent exposure has been linked to liver and kidney damage, reproductive damage, respiratory problems, and cancer. In May a new study revealed that exposure to solvents has consequences for memory and cognition not just in the present, but indefinitely into the future. Researchers now believe that even decades later people exposed to paints, degreasers, glues, and adhesives may continue to experience problems with thinking and memory.

Up until now it was commonly thought that exposure to solvents does affect short term brain functioning and cognition, but after studying some 2,143 male retirees (all of whom worked for a French national utility company) with long-term, even long ago exposure, researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health now believe the damage is more pervasive and permanent. “When we looked at those where the exposure happened a long time ago, 30 to 50 years before, we found that the effects of solvents on cognitive function didn’t necessarily fade away,” said Erika Sabbath.

Twenty-six percent of the men studied were exposed to benzene, thirty-three percent to chlorinated solvents, and twenty-five percent to petroleum solvents. The amount of exposure was noted carefully. The men were all tested for cognitive function at about ten years into retirement, and fifty-nine percent of them showed some sort of cognitive impairment on between one and three of the eight tests, with twenty-three percent of them showing cognitive impairment on four or more of the eight. Only eighteen percent showed no impairment at all.

The highest rates of impairment in all areas of memory and thinking were measured in men who had the most and most recent exposure to solvents. For instance, the men with high recent exposure to chlorinated solvents, such as those found in engine cleaners and degreasers, were sixty-five percent more likely to to have poorer scores for visual attention, task switching, and memory than those with no solvent exposure.

These findings were published in the journal Neurology.

By: Ryan Westphal

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Michigan Manufacturing on the Rise and Yes, That Means Industrial Parts Washers Too

industrial parts washers and manufacturingYou may have missed it, but last week, the second week in May, was Michigan Manufacturing Week. Former Governor John Engler was quoted recently saying that Michigan manufacturing is “on the mend,” and it seems to be the consensus of business experts and economists that Michigan, so long in recession, is making strides towards growth and improvement. Manufacturing has added jobs in state for the third year in a row. In 2013 alone 13,084 jobs were added. Currently there are more than 662,000 people working in manufacturing in Michigan in 14,194 manufacturing businesses across the state. These people make cars, seating, shoes, lasers, fabrics, paper, office furniture, furnaces, and, yes, industrial parts washers.

While this is good news for the people in Michigan in need of jobs now, it’s good news for the state and business in general for the future. Unlike in the past when much of manufacturing was line work, many of these new manufacturing jobs are in high tech areas. Earlier this year Jay Baron, President and CEO of the Center for Automotive Research said in an interview, “In Michigan we have a fairly high unemployment rate, yet there are a lot of for-hire signs at these companies,” he said. “They need technical-skilled people; technicians who can fix machines when they break down, computer programmers and other sorts of positions.” For specific skill sets, there is a lot of demand from manufacturers.

In the long term, those technical jobs will generate more revenue and will be largely immune to the forces that pulled jobs out of Michigan over the last decades. The research and development sectors of these businesses will create more work over time with the discoveries they make. These discoveries have the potential to change all of our lives for the better. New energy options, more efficient heating and cooling, environmental and industrial clean up, new medical treatments and drug options, faster and safer transportation – researchers and manufacturers will be the ones to provide us with safer, cleaner, and cheaper ways to solve the problems in our lives.

It’s a given that the future will not look the same as our industrial past, and the opportunities will not be the same, but for those of us willing to change and innovate, the future for Michigan looks brighter than it has in a long while.

By: Ryan Westphal

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Will Graphene be Used in the Future of the Industrial Parts Washers Industry?

Previously we discussed bio-remediation as a process used in environmental disasters such as oil spills and of potential use to the industrial parts washers industry. Scientists continually do research on cleaning technologies as our world grapples with how to deal with more and more complicated pollution generated by humans.

Another technology that shows promises for the remediation of water is the use of graphene. Graphene, a two-dimensional sheet of graphite, is the most stable form of carbon under natural conditions. It has many scientific applications and, up until now, the difficulty has been producing enough quality graphene in large quantities. However, recently scientists have found “they can create high-quality graphene sheets using a kitchen blender and ordinary dishwashing detergent.” Of course, the preferred method of manufacture of graphene will not be kitchen blenders, but if it’s possible to so simply create a decent quality graphene, a number of graphene-based technologies may be just around the corner.

Graphene performs very well as an adsorbent, removing oil, metal ions and organic pollutants from water. Human beings have long used a different form of carbon, activated charcoal, as an adsorbent to remove poisons from their digestive tracts and treat disease. Activated charcoal, as well as graphene, is very porous. All of its tiny holes give it significant surface area relative to its size and allow for the adsorption of an enormous amount of toxins. In a similar way scientists have designed bulky graphene materials for selective adsorption of heavy metal ions, organic pollutants, and and oil from water.

What makes graphene particularly promising, however, is its desorption ability. Not only can graphene selectively adsorb pollutants, but it can desorb them later and remain stable over time. Thus the same graphene can be used over and over again to pull undesirable pollutants and from water, shedding them later so the graphene can be used again and again.

As a maker of industrial parts washers, AEC Systems is of course concerned with the simplest ways to both clean objects and reduce waste byproducts, so any new developments involving the successful remediation of water is good news for us!

By: Ryan Westphal

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How can bio-remediation clean up oil spills and be used with industrial parts washers?

bio-redmediationBritish Petroleum today significantly increased its estimate of how much oil had spilled into Lake Michigan from its Whiting refinery in Northwest Illinois. It is now citing the amount of oil spilled as up to 39 barrels’ – or 1,638 gallons’- worth, up from the original estimate of 18 barrels. The refinery problem began when crude oil leaked into a sealed cooling system, causing the spill.

BP representative Scott Dean has stated that most of the oil has already been cleaned up from the spill site, but accidents such as these, involving crude oil and natural gas seem to be occurring more often these days, no doubt due to the nation’s aging fossil fuel infrastructure. This is a concern to anyone who heats with oil or natural gas, who drinks water taken from lakes or rivers, or who doesn’t enjoy seeing ruined natural spaces and dead wildlife.

Fortunately, advancements in science are allowing us to get better at cleaning up spills such as these through manual methods and processes such as bio-remediation which uses biological organisms “to solve an environmental problems such as contaminated soil or groundwater.” The types of organisms that are able to digest and process chemicals in oil spills can either be located at the spill site and encouraged to flourish by manipulation of the environment or introduced on site. Bio-remediation can be simpler, cheaper, and less disruptive than other cleaning methods which involve trucking large amounts of soil or water elsewhere and cleaning it.

A similar kind of chemistry is also beginning to be used in industrial parts washing. New technologies are being developed that utilize vegetable extracts as “green solvents” in industrial parts washers, taking a by-product of the vegetable processing industry and using it, combined with other cleaning agents and surfactants to clean and degrease parts, remove paint, glue, ink, wax, or even crude oil via bio-remediation. Unlike more commonly used petroleum-based solvents, these new green solvents are renewable, biodegradable, and non-flammable.

Our society is heavily dependent on petroleum solutions, but their attendant problems can be disastrous. It’s good to know that we are making progress solving at least some of these with chemistry.

By: Ryan Westphal

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