Environmental Services Firm Eliminates Costly Power Fluctuations

By Consulting Specifying Engineer Staff November 28, 2006

Veolia Environmental Services, L.L.C., formerly known as Onyx Environmental Services, provides environmental services and technical solutions including hazardous waste management, field services, and solvent reclamation for industrial customers, with more than 45 treatment and disposal facilities.

The company, however, needed greater power reliability measures to maintain its testing procedures. The prime service Veolia provides is properly disposing of chemical waste—the byproduct of manufacturing electronics, computer recycling, blending fuel and other toxic materials—in accordance with California’s stringent environmental requirements. As part of this requirement, stringent tests are required in a controlled environment that has steady temperature and power. Several hours are needed in order to complete a testing run that yields the results mandated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The tests are conducted at the firm’s facilities using a number of gas chromatography/mass spectrometer (GC/MS) instruments. A GC/MS is a very sophisticated system that draws power for both a heating element and the microprocessor-based on-board computer. For a short period of time after a test begins, the GC oven draws a very high current for the heating element. This brief power consumption presents a problem if the power is not clean or the voltage is unstable. A typical test involves 100 samples, takes 14 hours to complete and is conducted overnight.

In the past, Veolia would experience an unexpected shutdown even if the power fluctuated momentarily. This in turn would render a total loss of the test run and any scheduled runs thereafter. Since the spectrometer would assume that the power failed—even if there was a surge, spike or other brief power anomaly—the unit would go into standby mode, rendering the test run a complete loss. In order to combat this situation, Veolia installed a line-interactive uninterruptible power supply (UPS).

“According to the GC and GC/MS manufacturers, a UPS protecting this equipment has to be able to deliver power instantly and cannot have any switchover delays. After we installed the UPS, we noticed the problems didn’t go away and realized that the UPS had a switch-over time of several milliseconds, which proved too long for the spectrometer to continue its test run,” explained Shafiqul Alam, Technical Support Manager at Veolia. “After discussing the situation with the GC manufacturer, I realized that we needed a true on-line UPS, one that didn’t have this switch-over.”

Alam researched various vendors’ UPS technical specifications and found one that offers an extensive line of true on-line systems that could meet their needs. The vendors engineers discussed the firm’s requirement and recommended a 3-kVA series UPS.

It definitely met Alam’s requirements, and since installing the UPS, which includes power monitoring software, Veolia has not lost one test because of power pollution or voltage fluctuations.

“The monitoring software is especially useful since I have proof that a power anomaly occurred,” explains Alam. “Prior to installing the UPS, a power surge‘fried’ an entire board because the power exceeded the limited tolerance of the spectrometer. Though the vendor was very responsive and made the needed repairs, the resulting downtime was a problem. Since the online UPS has been on duty, we haven’t experienced any burned out boards. While it is hard to say if this is solely the result of installing the UPS, I know that power anomalies have been the reason for the spectrometer shutting down. This is a tremendous benefit for our business. In addition, since I installed the power monitoring software I have noticed, on several occasions, that power problems occur during the night.”

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