Energy for the future – sustainability in laundry

Janice Raycroft reports.

“We expect all commercial deliveries within a decade will be by electric vehicles unless hydrogen-powered vehicles become economically viable. The days of polluting diesels are numbered.” – Ron Davidson

Achieving sustainability goals in commercial setups is no longer about just the small steps you can take. Jan Raycroft finds out about some of the large scale approaches our industry businesses are taking to make significant long term changes to their energy usage.

The laundries of the future will be packed with energy and water-saving technology and demonstrate first class environmentally-friendly methods throughout their processes, from equipment and chemical choices to how they collect and deliver linen. Customers will demand more action on green issues, campaigners will highlight what society considers poor practice and governments will legislate on it all as they strive to achieve targets on carbon emissions and sustainability.

This sounds like some ‘big ticket’ spending, but many of our laundries are already heading down that path. For Ron Davidson this is currently both an exhaustive but fascinating challenge as he and colleagues oversee the rebuilding of what was Cottage Linen at Watford, operated by the Maybourne Hotel Group, after a devastating fire in 2018. It’s not only starting with a blank piece of paper but an empty site.

Their trailblazing laundry is not likely to operate until early 2023, but Davidson and the project team are thinking long beyond that, even if they cannot incorporate everything on their wish list right now simply because the technology needs to catch up. Steam generation rather than boilers, no use of plastics and dramatic changes in the delivery fleet are all on the list. Davidson says: “We expect all commercial deliveries within a decade will be by electric vehicles unless hydrogen-powered vehicles become economically viable. The days of polluting diesels are numbered.” Laundries for flatwork and table linen will become more robotised, so far more capital intensive, he believes, with companies operating 24/7 with fewer staff, and engineers employed to ensure robotic lines are operating correctly. Similarly, packing will be automatically generated packing lists on one shift per day. Interestingly, he also says changes in labour practice will eventually be included in all this with a four-day working week the norm and zero hours contracts banned by law. “All jobs that require full time attendance may be paid a premium above those who can work from home,” he suspects. “Laundries will be as clean as food manufacturing units, which will inevitably require higher prices and far greater cooperation with customers for this essential service. “Companies should be energy efficient in every area of the business,” he says. “Recording water usage per kg used for washing should be standard, and the business must have Green Efficiency Policy ratings. Aims must include recycling all heat generated in flatwork ironing and towel drying exhausts by reusing the heat/water to complete the loop and to have effective cleanable filters on all drains to remove lint and micro plastics from entering the sewage system.” The new laundry will not have a borehole for water supply when it opens.

It’s a thorny issue for Davidson with abstraction licences required for private boreholes. The Watford site is in the Colne Valley catchment area where such boreholes are discouraged by the water authority. A licence exists for a nearby site but cannot be transferred. In other parts of the country, it’s a simpler process and, as Davidson says, boreholes are not ‘new tech’ having been extensively used in the past.

Right up to date, a big fan of boreholes is Edward Syed, managing director of Dash Linen in Wimbledon who had one installed there by West Sussex-based experts Nicholls Boreholes in the winter of 2019. “At the start it does feel like a leap of faith,” he says. “The specialist surveys show the water is supposedly down there and before you’ve seen a drop there’s perhaps £15,000 to pay out on pipework. You can drill to 100 metres – ours appeared at 89 metres, which was a relief!” His appreciation of those who constructed the Dash borehole remains as he watched them work in freezing, mucky conditions, but the benefit continues today as Syed reckons within two years the system pays for itself and is then saving money, even with the addition of an iron filtration system in his case. He also sees this as a way of demonstrating environmental credentials to customers as Dash looks at more ways to play a part in a greener future. Like Davidson, he’s keeping an eye on developing products and technologies, whether that’s replacing shrink wrap or collecting rainwater.

Edward Syed of Dash Linen was fascinated by the project to install a borehole at his property – and was relieved when the engineers found water.

Another fan of boreholes is Richard Turvill, managing director of the state-of-the art premises of Swiss Camplings in Great Yarmouth which opened four years ago. “Beyond the obvious water savings for a business, surely the biggest benefit is the reduction in carbon dioxide when you’re not pumping and moving water around the UK,” he says. His advice on big sustainability projects is to be aware from the start that’s it’s more than investment in ‘the kit’: “Yes, you can cut your energy usage by 30 to 40 per cent, but the important thing is ‘buy in’ by all line managers and engineers – that you are going from a reactive to a preventative approach. I think of it as ‘looking for the dripping tap’ and stopping it within an hour, not after a week or more.” The ‘psychology issue’ extends to how their laundry dashboard is used and the lesson that if some sensors supposedly collecting data are in the wrong places you could be ‘recording rubbish’ not worthy of analysis. “You have to keep pushing, it’s never a done and dusted project, just like one cyber security ‘fix’ doesn’t mean you will be safe forever.” Turvill also warns about how you compare metrics, particularly when seeking global comparisons with companies. For instance, the calorific value of gas changes between the UK and parts of Europe, so you may not be comparing like for like.

Like our other innovators he’s constantly looking to the years ahead and is fascinated by news provided by his daughter, in her final year of study as a chemist, about projects looking at extracting carbon from the air. “I’m not yet sure how it would work in laundries, but you start thinking about our tumble dryers and the equivalent of mechanical trees collecting up carbon dioxide.” On solar energy, Turvill is still ‘on the fence’, simply because there’s a degree to go in the technology before a large laundry could really benefit when consuming such a volume of energy. However, the premises were designed to incorporate solar energy in future if the tech develops to makes this viable.

While current solar panels might not offer specific advantages to some large commercial laundries, they have a part to play in contributing to the ‘sum of the whole’. For instance, at The Northern Care Alliance’s NHS trusts, they are now fitted to roofs of delivery vehicles used mostly for transporting linen from hospitals to their in-house laundry. Steven Moss, estates and facilities commercial services manager, explains: “The solar panel systems we use are supplied by Trailar, who fit a thin set of solar panels to the roof. This helps to charge the batteries, reducing the need to use diesel fuel via the alternator to operate the vehicles’ tail lifts. They calculate that a rigid vehicle such as our Leyland Daf vehicles could save up to 850 litres of diesel per annum and reduce CO2 emissions by 3.5 tonnes.” In our February issue we also told you about how Airedale Chemical, the family-owned industrial chemical specialist, invested £200,000 into the installation of 263.73kw of solar panels across their North Yorkshire site on its south-facing warehouses and office buildings.

While current solar panels might not offer specific advantages to some large commercial laundries, they have a part to play in contributing to the ‘sum of the whole’. For instance, at The Northern Care Alliance’s NHS trusts, they are now fitted to roofs of delivery vehicles used mostly for transporting linen from hospitals to their in-house laundry. Steven Moss, estates and facilities commercial services manager, explains: “The solar panel systems we use are supplied by Trailar, who fit a thin set of solar panels to the roof. This helps to charge the batteries, reducing the need to use diesel fuel via the alternator to operate the vehicles’ tail lifts. They calculate that a rigid vehicle such as our Leyland Daf vehicles could save up to 850 litres of diesel per annum and reduce CO2 emissions by 3.5 tonnes.” In our February issue we also told you about how Airedale Chemical, the family-owned industrial chemical specialist, invested £200,000 into the installation of 263.73kw of solar panels across their North Yorkshire site on its south-facing warehouses and office buildings.

Solar panels have been fitted to the roofs of vehicles transporting linen between hospitals and the laundry operated by Northern Care Alliance.

The project that will see the company pulling zero electricity from the power grid. as part of its continued commitment to reducing the business’ carbon footprint.

Craig Thomson, finance director at Airedale Chemical, explains: “We expect to save around £25,000 a year on energy bills with an overall saving of £800,000 forecast for the next 25 years. While the project has been a great way for us to cut down our overheads, it also forms part of our strategy to minimise our carbon footprint and the impact on our environment. “The majority of energy generated by the solar panels will be used in our production facility where we operate mixing and reacting vessels continuously during our working week.”

The project took around 18 months from inception to completion including delays caused by Covid. The works were carried out by Custom Solar, which has worked on installations for commercial, public sector and infrastructure clients including Porsche, Cambridge University Press and ABP Port of Goole. Not every option suits all laundries, and as we’ve seen they choose different routes to reach their sustainable goals. Aware of the environmental burden the industry puts on the planet, Rona Tait at TDS in Isleworth, West London wanted to make her laundry as sustainable as possible. Having heard about the use of ozone in washing machines, her four machines were set up to run with the new system, Speed O, from laundry specialist Christeyns in April 2019, processing around 25,000 kilos of laundry per week when in operation.

Tait says: “We now wash in cold water for most items, our wash times have reduced from 45 to 30 mins and we can process 80 loads per day instead of 70. In addition, our water and energy bills have reduced significantly but the quality of the finished item is still high.” Tait also plans to switch from drycleaning to Christeyns wetcleaning and will be converting the fleet of vans to electric-hybrid fuel later in the year. “Customers want a clear conscience. For a hotel property, sustainability helps them win business,” she says.

In 2019 a Heat-ex Energo and water management system was installed by Christeyns at Imperial Linen Services, Mansfield. The energy saving unit recovers heat from wastewater and transfers it into incoming fresh water, saving on average 50 per cent on energy usage in the wash process. The heated water is used for warm rinsing. Anticipated annual savings include total water saving of over 12,000m3 per annum, a total energy saving of 1550 MWh per annum with a carbon reduction of 295 tonnes per annum. To date the Heat-ex Energo has saved over £15k for Imperial. In early 2020 Swiss Laundry launched their new laundry plant in Papworth, Cambridge (Camplings), following a £6m investment. Christeyns provided equipment including Flux Multi and Flux Star auto-dosing units, and Laundry X-Pert, advanced laundry management information software. Alongside high tech water and energy handling equipment this has allowed them to run a zero steam laundry where both water and energy are recycled.

At Laundry Efficiency Ltd their new Wash and Protect product ensures linen is bacteria and virus free for up to 90 days when used in conjunction with their laundry ozone system. Priory Laundry in Worcester was the first laundry in the country to purchase the full system and use the new range of chemicals. Having seen the benefits they are now installing the process at their Cardiff premises.

Graham Oakley from Laundry Efficiency is delighted, equally so by his business having recently won the Breaking the Mould award at Keele University for innovation in computer software. This has been designed to work out the savings for a commercial laundry automatically not only in chemistry and utility bills but in reducing plastics carbon emissions – and even works out the carbon emission savings for your customers.

Airedale Chemical expect their new solar panel system will help them to save around £25,000 a year on energy bills with an overall saving of £800,000 forecast for the next 25 years.

Airedale Chemical’s finance director, Craig Thomson.

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