Waupaca Foundry wins Better Project award

The U.S. Department of Energy has given its 2020 Better Project award to Waupaca, Wisconsin-based Waupaca Foundry, an AFS Corporate Member, as part of the agency’s Better Plants program that recognizes manufacturers for creating and implementing industrial energy and water efficiency projects, as well as renewable energy and energy resiliency projects.

Waupaca’s Tell City, Indiana, plant designed and installed a system to remove humidity from the air around the plant’s cupola, the furnace used to melt metal. Plant engineers installed a desiccant cupola blast air drying system that removes water vapor from ambient air prior to preheating in the foundry’s melt tower. Removing humidity from the air stabilizes operations throughout the year and reduces energy consumption.

“The system passes air through a desiccant air wheel, which works like a filter to remove water from the air, increasing the efficiency of the combustion process,” said Marco Gonzalez, corporate energy manager, Waupaca Foundry. “It’s like if you’re trying to light a barbecue during a rainy day, the moisture in the air will consume power from your charcoal and they will take longer to light. By removing the moisture from the air, the fuel can burn more efficiently.”

The project reduces foundry coke use, which is the fuel used in the melt furnace, and improves melting efficiency, in turn offsetting rising material costs. Furnaces melt the iron and maintain temperatures ranging from 2,600 to 2,800 degrees Fahrenheit. Computerized systems constantly monitor temperature.

“The system allows us to avoid weather variations in the process of melting iron, especially in our southern locations. Sustained humidity levels at this plant can have monthly averages of 80%, and several days at 100% humidity,” Gonzalez said.

Energy conservation is a key strategy, according to Waupaca Foundry President, COO and CEO Mike Nikolai.

“Our commitment to environmental responsibility moves beyond regulatory compliance to ensure our long-term sustainability,” he said. “Initiatives like these create value that benefits our customers, shareholders, employees, suppliers and the public.”

The process to melt iron represents 65% of the total plant’s energy usage, with coke being the largest energy source. Reducing energy consumption in this process is consistent with Waupaca Foundry’s sustainability goals by reducing energy and water consumption, implementing pollution control technologies, and recycling used foundry sand. The company recycles 450,000 tons of foundry byproducts annually; sand that can no longer be recycled is used in general construction, road construction, agricultural use, and geotechnical fill.