GM Canada’s St. Catharines Powertrain Utilizes Micro-Hydro Energy
General Motors is breaking new ground once again with its St. Catharines Powertrain plant in Canada. The plant, located near the St. Lawrence Seaway and Niagara Escarpment, utilizes canal water for a micro-hydro system that not only cools component machining and lowers building temperatures, but is also the first use of renewable energy at a GM Canada manufacturing facility.
The plant, which builds V6 and V8 engines and six-speed automatic transmissions for Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, and GMC vehicles, recently received a C$13 million investment to ramp up production on a new V6 engine. The use of the micro-hydro system makes the facility Canada’s most efficient and likely a focal point as GM continues to shoot for a goal of utilizing 125 megawatts of renewable energy by 2020.
Per General Motors Green, here’s how the system works:
St. Catharines taps into a penstock – similar to a large pipe – that runs parallel to the Welland Canal, which was built to enable the passage of ships between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. The penstock delivers water from a higher elevation to a lower elevation, about a 140 foot drop, using the force of gravity to feed water to the plant at approximately 40 pounds per square inch of pressure.
This micro-hydro system delivers the canal water that cools the plant’s refrigerated chilled water system. This in turn provides cooling water to maintain the appropriate temperature of process equipment in the plant. Prior to the installation of this renewable energy project, the plant used refrigerated city water to cool building processes, then returned the warm water to a cooling tower to be cooled and used again.
Now less electricity is required to run pumps and fans because large volumes of canal water is cooling the refrigeration system. In the winter, no refrigeration is needed at all, with desired cooling water temperatures achieved simply by using a heat exchanger. After the water has been used, it goes back to the Welland Canal at the appropriate temperature.
Did you get all that? In case you need a TL;DR, the plant pulls water from the Welland Canal at high speeds, allowing for constant replenishment of the chilled water system that keeps everything in the plant cool and cutting the electricity needed to run pumps and fans at all time. All water is returned to the canal at a normal temperature once used, creating renewable energy and resulting in zero waste.
GM says that the system saves both electricity and water on a yearly basis, and it has also cut costs required for cooling towers and treatment chemicals. At peak hours, the micro-hydro system saves up to 2,000 kilowatts of electricity, which results in 800 tons fewer CO2 emissions annually.