Plant Construction & Process Technology

Building For Generations

Boosting Biopharma Profits Through Sustainability

20.07.2010 -

Triple Bottom Line - With environmental concerns now firmly at the top of the corporate agenda, adopting sustainable production practices is a must for all organizations in the biotech and pharma sectors. In addition to protecting valuable natural resources, its inherent efficiencies can also help to reduce costs and increase profitability. Kieran O'Daly reports.

Environmental sustainability is defined as the ability of the environment to continue to function indefinitely (Brundtland Report 1987). From a corporate viewpoint, this means minimizing environmental impact across all aspects of a company's operations by ensuring that any natural resources used in production processes are not consumed any faster than they can be replenished.

In recent years, increasing numbers of companies across all industry sectors have adopted sustainability as the key ingredient and driver of their corporate social responsibility strategy. While this may have started out as merely a marketing exercise for some, for many others it has become central to their operating ethos and has brought significant long term bottom line benefits through increased efficiency, reduced costs, improved working environment and staff morale and enhanced brand reputation.

Sustainability at No Additional Cost

Many organizations mistakenly believe that incorporating sustainability into their operations will require significant additional capital investment over and above what they would anticipate already spending on commissioning a new plant or even retrofitting an existing facility. This need not be the case, particularly on green field projects, according to Andy Rayner, Group Director of Technology, PM Group, who heads up the company's sustainability arm.

The key to minimizing capital investment and reducing payback time, he says, is to identify critical project requirements and goals as early as possible and then incorporate them into the initial design concept. Employing 1,700 staff, PM Group is one of Europe's leading architecture and engineering design and project management firms. With 70% of its business coming from the biopharma sector, it is currently working on several major multi-million euro green and brownfield projects worldwide, including facilities for Sanofi-Aventis in France, Genzyme and GSK Biologics in Belgium, and Wyeth in China and Singapore ,respectively. The company was also involved in the development of a new cell culture facility for Centocor in Cork, Ireland, which was named sustainability category winner at the ISPE Facility of the Year Awards in 2009.

"Most sustainable design concepts can be implemented without any additional time or capital investment provided that the key project criteria are identified and incorporated into the design concept from the outset," Rayner explains. "Some projects can involve additional capital cost in the early stages, but offer payback in terms of operating cost savings over a number of years. Others won't provide payback in their own right but could, when assisted by capital grants from local government agencies, become more attractive and, therefore, it is imperative for all companies looking to implement sustainable designs to do their research beforehand and find out whether or not there are grants available to them to offset their investment."

Every organization will have its own individual requirements and goals and, depending plant and site type, implementation costs will vary. Some may want to neutralize plant operating costs entirely or reduce their carbon footprint, while others may just be looking for accreditation to standards such as BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) or LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design).

"Whatever the ultimate aim of the project," Rayner adds, "it is important to remember that it will have a much greater chance of success if the specific criteria involved are identified, agreed upon and then incorporated into the design concept from the start. On all PM Group projects, regardless of size, we sit down with the client at the earliest possible opportunity to assess their requirements and then build our design solution around that. We also keep the clients closely involved throughout the entire process to ensure that their needs are being met."

Key Issues

There are a number of key issues to consider when implementing a sustainable design concept. First and foremost is site location. This is already decided in the case of brownfield or retrofit projects, but, with greenfield sites, important considerations include potential impact on the surrounding area and local community, the availability of requisite natural resources and the proximity of road, rail and other infrastructure. In the case of a new build, choosing the optimum orientation for the building can help reduce solar gain, and considered architectural design from the start can provide sustainability features that otherwise might not otherwise be possible.

There may be an opportunity to use to use renewable energy resources such as biomass, combined hear and power, geothermal, wind or solar, but for large scale manufacturing facilities, this may only be practicable for certain low power draw sections of the site such as office or warehouse buildings, Rayner says. A more realistic alternative where there is a large power usage may be to purchase "green" power from the grid.

Within the plant itself, sustainable design principles requiring little or no additional capital investment offer a wide variety of benefits, a reduction in energy costs not least among them. Choosing locally-sourced sustainable materials such as concrete thermal slabs to minimize heat loss and chill beam technology to cool office areas can significantly reduce energy usage. So, too, will smart use of lighting technology such as light pipes and occupancy sensors.

"Heating, ventilation and air conditioning is one of the biggest energy users in any facility, particularly in clean room areas," Rayner points out. "Technology and process changes mean that clean room operations are now more closed and use fewer staff than before, so it is important to use systems that take full account of this when assessing air change requirement rates as even a small reduction can significantly reduce energy usage. Closing off open clean areas will also reduce air change requirement rates. Other options that can help to drive down capital investment and operating costs include widening humidity control bands, reducing specific fan powers and the number of fume hoods, and installing primary/secondary air handling units."

Other important considerations are water and waste management, as both can be major energy users. Recycling where possible is key in both instances. Water efficiency can be optimized through rainwater harvesting, storm water management, high efficiency purified water generation systems, and high efficiency water treatment and water recovery systems. The use of reclaimed (grey) water for non-product contact water use functions will also reduce energy usage and cost, while temperatures on hot water-for-injections systems need to be monitored closely at all times. Minimizing waste throughout the facility will also help to drive down costs, particularly in instances where it may require heat treatment prior to disposal.

Getting It Right

Already an integral part of good engineering practice, there is no doubt that sustainable design is the way forward. Like any other discipline, however, it is important to avoid costly errors if its true benefits are to be realized and, according to Rayner, the most common mistake is a failure to get a clear definition of requirements and goals at the outset of the project as this can create major problems down the line.

"There is also the misconception that sustainability automatically adds cost - it doesn't," he points out. "Other common mistakes include failure to research grant opportunities or focusing too much on one area, possibly process or technology, and losing sight of overall lifecycle costs. Most sustainable design concepts are very simple and very cost-efficient to implement. If implemented correctly, with full input from all stakeholders, they have the ability to generate significant long term environmental and cost reduction benefits for all."


Centocor - Award Winning
Centocor's new greenfield cell culture facility in Cork, Ireland earlier this year received regulatory approval to start sale of products manufactured on their site. PM Group and CRB Consulting Engineers provided site evaluation, master planning and permitting, architecture and engineering design, procurement, construction management support, and commissioning and qualification services on the project which commenced back in 2004 when Centocor approved funding to establish a new cell culture and purification site for two promising new drugs then in development.

The overall mission of the project - dubbed BioCork - was to have biologic API capacity approved for market by June 2010. It was completed well ahead of schedule, under budget and exceeded capability requirements in all areas, most particularly in the area of sustainability. Some 40% more energy-efficient and with a 97% smaller carbon footprint than equivalent Centocor facilities around the world, it was named Sustainability category winner in the ISPE Facility of the Year Awards in 2009.

Key facets of the project included the installation of a biomass (woodchip) boiler for base steam load and advanced membrane waste water treatment facilities, improved local traffic management and the planting of 70,000 trees to protect air quality and mitigate the visual impact of the project on the surrounding area.


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