Fluid Power’s Role in Our Nation’s Energy Efficient Future Part 3: Determining the Energy Consumption of Fluid Power Systems

Third in a series of articles describing NFPA’s actions focused on the development of a program within the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) that can fund and focus on energy efficiency improvements using fluid power technology. The envisioned program would be partly research-focused, helping to develop new energy efficient fluid power technologies, and partly education-focused, helping to improve the design and maintenance of existing fluid power systems with current technologies and techniques. To read the full series, go here.

After a successful meeting in October 2009 with what was then known as the Industrial Technologies Program of the DOE, NFPA received funding to conduct what we believe to be the first-ever study of the energy consumption of fluid power systems. Given our anecdotal understanding of the current efficiency of fluid power systems, and given their wide ubiquity of application in our nation’s key industries, we suspected that a significant amount of energy could be saved even with only minor improvements in fluid power system efficiency. And the study gave us the opportunity to back that assumption up with real data.

NFPA’s role was to collect efficiency data from as many of our members as possible, aggregate it and remove company-specific identifiers, and provide the data to a researcher at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, who would do the number-crunching and produce the report. In this way, our process was very similar to that NFPA uses to compile a number of market information reports based on confidential member company data, and NFPA’s experience and trusted position in this capacity was pivotal in getting the necessary information from our members.

In the end, 30 companies provided information for the study—which included product, system and efficiency data for fluid power applications across four primary markets:

  1. Mobile Hydraulics: Hydraulics used to perform tasks on mobile machines, such as construction equipment, earth-moving equipment, agricultural equipment, heavy trucks and buses.
  2. Industrial Hydraulics: Hydraulics used to perform tasks in manufacturing facilities, such as injection molding, material handling and metal forming.
  3. Pneumatics: Pneumatics used to perform tasks and processes in manufacturing and material handling facilities.
  4. Aerospace: Hydraulics and pneumatics used to perform tasks on airplanes, such as in landing gears and flight controls.

The results of the study were significant. They showed that, in total, fluid power systems consumed up to 2.9 quads of energy per year (a quad of energy being equal to 1 quadrillion BTUs, and representing 1% of the total energy consumed in the United States), with the bulk of that energy being consumed in mobile hydraulic (up to 1.3 quads) and industrial pneumatic (up to 1.1 quads) applications.

Furthermore, the study showed that, on average, fluid power system efficiency across all the applications studied was 22%. In some cases it was as high as 60% and in other cases as low as 9%. The study also provided a number of case studies to demonstrate how much of that energy would likely be recoverable with new investments in research and market education.

The full study is available online. If you’ve like to review it, please go here.

The study showed that fluid power systems account for a significant amount of energy consumption in the United States, and that they represented an untapped opportunity for efficiency gains. Our next step was to use this information to help open discussions about where fluid power could fit within the energy efficiency objectives of the DOE. That will be the focus of my next article.

The intent of this series is to keep NFPA members better informed about our efforts in this regard, and also to seek their help in advocating for the envisioned program. Please watch this space for more background on this issue as well as regular updates on our progress. If you would like to become more involved, please contact Eric Lanke directly at (414) 778-3351 or elanke@nfpa.com. Getting industry leaders engaged in this effort will be critical to its ultimate success.


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