GEORGETOWN — Trying to reduce costs and help the environment, Toyota's sprawling plant in Georgetown launched a new system this month that they say will save 17 million gallons of water annually.
The plant, Toyota's flagship in North America, uses roughly 1 million gallons of water during each of the 260 or so days it's in operation in a year. The water is vital in processes including painting the Camrys, Avalons and Venzas assembled at the plant.
Over the years, the factory's workers have found ways to steadily reduce their water use. For instance, workers once used water to rinse vehicles at four separate points in the painting process. Each vehicle still is rinsed four times, but now the water that's used in the first step is reused in the remaining rinses.
One area of improvement the plant has sought was to use more of the water that comes to it from provider Kentucky American Water.
The water used in automotive applications must be so refined that it must be filtered extensively before use, manufacturing support specialist Bethany Giordano said. In 1998, the plant installed a system that uses a process called reverse osmosis, which filters water using high pressures, to help refine the resource.
Once water was filtered through the system, only 75 percent of it was deemed acceptable enough for use by workers. The remaining 25 percent was sent down the drain, so to speak, to the Georgetown sewer system.
Beginning five months ago, workers began installing a second reverse-osmosis system to essentially filter the filtered water.
"It was a very quick project," Giordano said.
The idea came indirectly from Toyota's factory in Cambridge, Ontario, where the government has sought ways to reduce water use. Workers at the plant designed a system similar to what Georgetown has installed, and executives at Toyota's manufacturing headquarters in Erlanger, in Northern Kentucky, passed along the idea.
The brackish reverse osmosis system, as it is called, takes the 25 percent of water that is rejected by the first reverse osmosis system and filters it again rather than allowing it to go straight to the sewer. Once filtered, 60 percent of that water is sent back to the first reverse osmosis system to be used again, and the remainder is sent to the sewer system.
Now less than half of the water that had been rejected for years ultimately ends up down the drain.
The new system is expected to save 17 million of gallons annually, roughly the amount of water used on 17 production days. In dollars, it's more than $70,000 a year in savings, said Bill Thiry, assistant manager of utilities engineering and energy management.
The savings are so dramatic that the new system will pay for itself in just seven months, Giordano said.
And it's a better way to truly reduce water use, Thiry said. Some savings in previous years had come by using water that collected in on-site retention ponds, he said.
"We were counting that as water savings, but when you think about it, are you really saving?" he said. "Now we're using something we've already used. We're not taking it from the environment."