Although energy conservation has played an important role in improving the energy efficiency of forest industries in the industrialized world, it has received less attention by those industries in the developing countries. For these countries, energy conservation would be especially important since most of them spend large amounts of valuable foreign currency on their fuel imports. Increased energy efficiency would also reduce their manufacturing costs.
Both the finite nature and the dramatic effect that price rises of conventional fossil fuels has on both the industries and industrialized societies is now widely recognized, particularly after the three-fold price increases were imposed by the OPEC oil producers in 1973. Not only were oil users hard-hit, but the embargo had political implications and an inflationary impact on national economies. Therefore the combination of declining resources, energy vulnerability and rising costs have forced several countries and decision-makers in the manufacturing industry to give greater priority to the issues of energy conservation and management.
Although the recent dramatic fall in crude oil prices has led to complacency in some sectors of the energy using industry, such a situation is best regarded as short-term and should be viewed as a breathing space enabling the wind-fall gains, resulting from the lower energy prices, to be ploughed back into energy saving projects in preparation for the inevitable rise in the price of energy and the expected shortfall in the supply of fossil fuel over the long-term.
The mechanical wood-based industries in developing countries are relatively unsophisticated, using low technology compared to many new, fast developing industries. In particular sawmilling is the least sophisticated of all mechanical forest industries, originally with relatively low capital involvement and energy requirements, although labour-intensive. Yet there is an overall trend towards more energy consuming mechanical processing.
A growing awareness as to the importance of reducing energy consumption is becoming widespread throughout the industry of developed countries, resulting in conservation measures being adopted through capital expenditure, management involvement and improved plant operation and maintenance. However, by the very nature of the mechanical forest industries, in which no two mills are alike, combined with the diversity of raw materials and products, the applications and results of energy conservation measures will vary according to individual circumstances. However, the close relationship of energy costs and profit margins is common to most mills, in which improved energy efficiency may be directly related to improved profits.
Management should actively participate in conservation programmes and be encouraged to identify reasonable energy-saving alternatives and to assess whether they be worthwhile investments, once their capital costs have been estimated and annual operating margins identified. By establishing a clear line of communication to all levels of employees, the objectives will be better understood, and thus a greater willingness to partake in the programme fostered.
Yet the greatest potential savings are at the planning stage, during which time energy saving design features may be incorporated into the overall concept of the new project, thereby taking advantage of the lack of physical or other constraints imposed upon the design of the energy efficiency systems and allowing the designer freedom of choice in selecting the most appropriate and cost-effective options available to him. Additionally, design contractors and equipment manufacturers alike should regard energy savings as a basic feature of their design standards.
All efforts by management and operators to conserve energy will be thwarted if their plant is ill-conceived, poorly designed and laid out with building designs, material handling systems and process plan that are energy hungry, in need of high maintenance and encourage lax housekeeping.
In spite of high fuel costs mills can still be found burning their residues, simply to dispose of it in the absence of a market outlet. The use of wood waste as an alternative fuel source definitely warrants investigation so as to maximize its use with the view to increasing the operation's energy self-sufficiency. However, because of the numerous options available and the high cost of capital plant involved, the advantages of its use, compared to that of traditional energy supplies, should be examined professionally on a case by case basis in order that its economic viability be studied and the most appropriate and cost effective system determined.