Continuous Improvement: Hawesville Water Conservation Project

Nov 12, 2018

By Stefan Nowicki
Domtar Manager, Communications and Government Relations

Innovation is one of Domtar’s core values, along with agility and caring. As such, we are always looking on to the future, for new ways to improve our processes and how to increase the efficiency of our operations.

Domtar’s Hawesville, Kentucky mill is a great example of living by those values. By applying continuous improvement principles, and making small, relatively inexpensive upgrades, repairs and process changes, the dedicated and talented leadership at the mill managed to not only save money, but more importantly, conserve vital water resources for our operations and the ecosystem around our facility.

Every pulp and paper mill relies on an uninterrupted flow of water to produce cost-effective, high-quality products. Mills use a lot of water, which is cleaned before use and again before being returned to its source, in many cases cleaner than when it entered our process.

Our Hawesville mill increased production of specialty papers and needed more water as part of the manufacturing process. This fact, coupled with water pressure issues from their well field being close to capacity, made it an ideal time for action.

We started by identifying 17 locations at the facility where clean water was leaking or being sewered. Some projects were as simple as fitting a little bit of pipe back to one of the cooling towers, others required more time and capital dollars. The larger projects generally resulted in more water savings, such as an upgrade to the Recovery Water Salvage Pump or salvaging of paper machine warm seal water.

Project costs ranged from $0 (or negligible cost) to $130,000. The monetary savings generated from these 17 projects are so significant that the payback period is less than two years. The collective water savings from all of the completed projects amounted to nearly 2,200 gallons per minute or 3.2 million gallons per day.

These numbers are even more impressive when put into the context of the mill’s total water intake, which has seen a decrease of 34 percent over the past few years. This marked decrease has contributed to savings in other areas of the mill, such as the costs to pump, treat and heat process water, boiler feed water and effluent.

The reduced water use and associated lowered production and operating costs ensure the continued viability of the Hawesville mill and its hundreds of high-paying jobs, as well as the many more jobs created upstream and downstream in our supply chain, from loggers to truckers to local businesses.

Some of the project’s unquantifiable benefits are related to the ecosystem around the mill, such as the local aquifer—a vital, shared community resource—that will continue to thrive with the mill’s improved environmental stewardship practices.

Domtar received the 2018 AF&PA Leadership in Sustainability Award for Water for its Hawesville Water Conservation Project.