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Measuring environmental performances

by Rossano Resca, Centro Ceramico

The environmental issues arising during the manufacturing process – atmospheric emissions, water balance, the analysis of materials, energy consumption – are such that they have been considered in the assessment of the Best Available Techniques (BAT) standards.
BAT for ceramic tile industry are identified and quantitatively specified, through ad hoc environmental performance indicators, in Guidelines on Best Available Techniques in the ceramic manufacturing industry, developed by an interministerial Committee and issued by Interministerial  Decree DM 29/01/2007 (ex art. 3.2 D.Lgs. n.372/99).
Ceramic tile manufacturers – Impact factors and environmental performances- 2010-2013 Report (Confindustria Ceramica, 2015) is a sector analysis whose database is based on the environmental data companies annually send online to regional authorities, through the AIA portal.
The Report concerns tile manufacturers in the Emilia-Romagna region coming under the scope of application of the IPPC Directive: it is 90 factories, “covering”, as far as 2013 production is concerned, 314 million sq metres, which make up for  86% of ceramic tiles domestic production. The analysis relates to the previous studies carried out by the Centro Ceramico in cooperation with Confindustria Ceramica, such as the 1998 Integrated Report (Assopiastrelle, 1998 [RI_’98]) and the 2008 Integrated Report (Confindustria Ceramica, 2008 [RI_2008]). The 2010-2013 Report has been realized thanks to enhanced communication between companies and the competent authorities through the communication of annual reports on environmental and energy performances. These reports are homogeneous, can easily be compared, and provide reliable reference for the assessment of a production unit  in relation to the aspects considered.
In order to make the most of this huge amount of information, the Emilia-Romagna Region, together with Confindustria Ceramica, has signed an “Agreement on cooperation for the production of data of environmental importance”, enabling the use of data by the Centro Ceramico, for the subsequent issue and publication of the 2010-2013 Report.
The values associated to BAT are not the only parameters used to assess the Italian ceramic industry’s current environmental performances: whenever possible, the European eco-labels criteria, and the average  sector achievements as documented in the previous reports (RI_’98 and RI_2008) will also be taken into consideration.

Atmospheric emissions
The most significant performance indicator is the average annual emission factor of each pollutant, for every manufacturing plant of our sample. The emission factor is measured in grams of pollutant per square metre of tile produced (g/m2), and is calculated from emission data periodically measured, elaborated, registered, and communicated.
The emission factor of the companies analysed, for the year 2013, registered between 0.1 and 7.7 g/m2 (according to the product class /membership cycle), compared to sector BAT reference value of 7.5 g/m2. All companies considered are in line with BAT, and the same companies (except for one case) also meet the Ecolabel standard (which is 5.2 g/m2); in fact, over 93% of factories have an emission factor lower than half the Ecolabel parameter. It can also be noticed as the situation, compared to 1998 and 2008 Reports, has radically improved; the average is settled between 0.4 and 1.6 g/m2, therefore with a really excellent result, since compared to the previous values we had, 4.4 g/m2 [RI_’98] and between 0.7 and 2.6 g/m2 [RI_2008] respectively.
As to atmospheric emissions for fluorine compounds, results have shown excellent just the same: the emission factor was registered between 0.01 and 0.56 g/m2; compared to a BAT reference value of 0.60 g/m2, with 93% of plants fully complying with the environmental standards set by Ecolabel, registering values lower than 0.20 g/m2 (Ecolabel limit). The improvement registered compared to the 1998 and 2008 Reports, is a leading indicator; the average settles between 0.05 and 0.18 g/m2, therefore with a really excellent result, if compared with the previous values we had, 0.48 g/m2 [RI_’98] and between 0.12 and 0.26 g/m2 [RI_2008] respectively.

Water use
For water balance and analysis of materials several indicators are taken into account. Both cases identify as “best” the recycle/reuse techniques respectively, of wastewater and of waste /residuals produced (both those directly associated to the product, such as raw and fired waste, and water treatment residuals): these recycle/reuse techniques ensure higher protection of  environment, as they reduce at the same time emissions/discharge of pollutants to the environment, and consumption  of natural resources (well waters or pipe water, and raw materials).
The indicator which is used is the “total reuse factor (indoor + outdoor)”, respectively, of waste water or of waste/residuals produced, in percentage. A wastewater reuse factor of 100% indicates that all waste water produced are reused, indoor or outdoor; hence there is no discharge to surface water or groundwater. A reuse factor higher than 100% is elaborated for those plants which, apart from reusing all waste water produced during manufacturing process, are capable of receiving other water waste, to cover a further share of its own productive cycle water need.
Wastewater reuse factor has registered between 93% and 186% (according to product class/membership cycle). The reuse average factor is between 100 and 112%, with a sharp improvement compared to 1998, where the average was around 89%, and a strengthening of minimal values at 100%, compared to 77% in 2008. It therefore can be observed that all factories analysed in the sample, regardless of product class/ membership cycle, comply with BAT standards (reuse above 50%), and even with the Ecolabel excellence standard (reuse above 90%).

Waste disposal
A similar picture appears for waste/residuals. A sharp improvement is registered compared to the 1998 Benchmarking,  when average value was around 86% and the strengthening of minimal values at 100% (99% to be precise), compared to a 94% from 2008; waste/residuals reuse factor has shown to be between 84% and a maximum of 364%, values from 99 to 146% on average. Furthermore, only 7% of the examined plants has a reuse factor below 99%, wholly complying with even the Ecolabel standards (reuse above 85%); in one case only the indicator shows a result below 85%, as demanded by Ecolabel (not to mention BAT reuse factor, where a value above 50% is required).

The energy of tiles
As far as energy is concerned, it was employed the indicator “total specific energy consumption (thermal + electric)”, measured in Giga Joule per ton of tiles produced (GJ/t).
Among the “best techniques” identified are reduced energy technologies (such as, for example, fast single layer kilns); but if they are not accompanied by a proper production and management organization, energy performance of applied technologies would be negatively influenced. BAT standards embrace five values, as they take into consideration both production cycle (complete or partial from powders) and production process (porcelain stoneware, single firing, double firing); this considering that each of the cases mentioned is to be associated with a rather different energy consumption.
The “total specific energy consumption” for the year 2013 for our sample of tile manufacturers settled between 2.5 GJ/t and 12.3 GJ/t (with energy the dependance from registered data and product class/ membership cycle is higher), compared to related values linked to sector BAT, between 4.9 GJ/t (partial cycle) and 6.5 GJ/t (complete cycle).

The sample’s average specific consumption is between 3.9 and 6.9 GJ/t, while the 1998 analysis revealed a unified 4.9 GJ/t; only a partial comparison can  be made with Ecolabel excellence criteria (which becomes 3.5 GJ/t), since such value merely refers to fuel consumption during firing.
Although the average value hasn’t basically changed over the last 8 years, one could still observe that 78% of sample companies show a consumption which is lower than BAT standards (6.5 GJ/t), which occurs for the remaining 22%, although mainly concentrated in product class/ membership cycle concerning  “all complete cycle products, including the preparation of atomized mixture to sell it to third parties”, that is the most energy-consuming one.
It must be noted anyway that energy consumption, although decreased after the introduction and promotion of single fire and fast single layer firing, shows a tendency to increase compared to levels in the 90s [RI_’98],  and a substantial stability since 2008.
The analysis shows that this increase is most likely due to a trend towards the so-called “high-range products”, which involves the production of special products requiring arduous promotional campaigns, as well as goods produced in limited lots, just to make sure a selected clientele is interested and satisfied. In these conditions, machinery (thermal machinery in particular) works better at lower speed, though it is more energy consuming. What therefore lies at the bottom of this trend, particularly highlighted in the sample considered, is great attention and care in energy management, and also a high level commercial choice.

What has been so far analysed shows that the Italian tile manufacturing industry has been maintaining, since several decades, extremely high levels of environmental excellence, and that its current stance, as to sustainability, is highly recognized.
This is based on the assessment of indicators considered: indicators which Italian companies have known, managed, measured, elaborated, and registered for many years. This know-how also shows the determination with which companies, sometimes under legislative pressure, guarantee a continuous improvement of their environmental standards.
Sustainability has become an important factor of competitiveness, within a more sensitive and aware market, favouring sustainable goods, in compliance with specifics and requirements which need to be strict if they want to be plausible. Techniques and methods need great accuracy to ensure a reliable assessment of environmental factors and aspects.