Columbia Steel has a long history of being proactive in environmental affairs and conservation.
When we built our present plant site in 1962, it included some wetlands and wildlife habitat adjacent to the Columbia Slough. As we began making plans for how to best utilize the land, nature preservation was part of it. As early as 1975, Columbia Steel was presented with a state award for environmental leadership by then-Governor Bob Straub.
We received the city of Portland’s “BEST” award (Business for Environmentally Sustainable Tomorrow) in April 2000, for our water conservation accomplishments, and again in 2006 for our recycling programs. Our water consumption today is only 3% of peak levels in 1978. That amounts to saving 500 million gallons per year. Since 1978, water & sewer rates have increased 10,000% (from 25¢ to $25 per unit), but our bills have increased only 400%.
The first dust collector we built as part of the new foundry was only the second one to be registered in the state. The EPA says that we are now the largest steel foundry west of the Mississippi. Yet, in the air pollution control arena, we are still considered a ‘natural minor’ source, which is the lowest possible EPA category.
Electrical Energy Conservation
As one of PacifiCorp’s biggest customers, we are committed to purchase a portion of our electricity under their “Blue Sky” program. This portion of our power comes from clean, renewable, wind power generators, and helps promote more future renewable energy development. The 75,000 kilowatt hours per month that we obtain this way is the equivalent carbon offset of 1,137,666 car-miles not driven — roughly equal to 12.5 miles per day for 350 employees.
In years past as lighting technology evolved, we converted the lights in our major buildings from 1000 W incandescent to 750 W mercury vapor, then to 400 W high pressure sodium lights. In 2001 we replaced most of the 400 W sodium lights with 250 W metal halides or fluorescent lights. Then in 2014 we updated all our exterior and interior lighting with modern fluorescents and motion control on/off switches, resulting in an annual 844,855 kilowatt hour reduction, and an annual carbon dioxide reduction of 514 tons.
Learn more about our recent lighting upgrade →
We have 24 major dust collectors, powered by fans totaling about 1500 HP. The dust collectors are interlocked with the machines and processes they serve, so the machines won’t start until the dust collector is running. We went a step further and added timers for automatic shutoff, so the collector won’t continue running just because the operator forgot to turn it off. The original fans have also been replaced with more energy efficient ones wherever possible.
In 2002 we completed a major overhaul of our compressed air system, installing three new 150 horsepower compressors and state of the art controls.
For another aspect of demand management, we participate when possible in PacifiCorp’s Demand Exchange program. When the electricity supply grid is heavily loaded, we study our needs ahead, and try to schedule production so that we can offer sizeable blocks of electric power demand reduction back to the power company. This allows them to run their generation and supply system more efficiently when demands peak on their system, and in turn reduces our power bills.
Natural Gas Energy Conservation
Our biggest use of natural gas is for large ovens that reheat our steel castings to refine their internal microstructure for essential hardness and toughness. Their walls and roofs were originally insulated with thick refractory bricks, but those have been replaced with more efficient ceramic fiber blankets, typically about 8” thick.
Our 4 largest heat treating ovens have been converted to state-of-the-art low pollution burners and control systems, which also provide improved energy efficiency.
Columbia Steel is a big-time recycler. Every day we recycle up to 200 tons of scrap steel, 800 tons of sand, and 1.5 million gallons of water. Every month we recycle 25,000 pounds of office paper, cardboard, pallets, wood scraps & sawdust, keeping this material out of local landfills and into productive uses. We also have collection systems for recycling batteries, light bulbs, used oil and antifreeze, computers and other electronic equipment.
We stockpile our used sand, slag and other foundry materials on our site until they can be recycled usefully. Every type of product we put in these stockpiles is tested to assure it will not contaminate surface or ground water. We have been reprocessing these materials in recent years to recover metals which were not previously economical to reclaim. Over the years we have developed sand reclamation systems that allow us to clean up and reuse our sand more than ever before. We study every byproduct and waste stream of our operations, with an eye toward developing beneficial reuse programs. We have been working closely with the Department of Environmental Quality to develop new regulations to facilitate the beneficial reuse of industrial materials. Our ultimate goal is to be a zero waste facility. “One man’s waste should be another man’s raw material”.