GM to use landfill gases as an energy-saver at Orion plant

The General Motors Orion Assembly plant will save $1.1 million a year in energy costs thanks to recent improvements at the plant.

Suzanne Ashe
Suzanne Ashe has been covering technology, gadgets, video games, and cars for several years. In addition to writing features and reviews for magazines and Web sites, she has contributed to daily newspapers.
Suzanne Ashe
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Steve Fecht

As production of the fuel-efficient 2012 Chevrolet Sonic and Buick Verano begins this fall at the General Motors Orion Assembly Plant, 40 percent of the energy required to build the vehicles will come from burning gas from a nearby landfill. General Motors

General Motors has taken steps to make the Orion Assembly Plant even more energy efficient including using landfill gas to cut energy costs.

The plant will begin assembling the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic and Buick Verano this fall. With an upgraded paint shop that is heated by natural and landfill gas, the painting process will use half of the energy per vehicle of the one it replaced. The system runs exclusively on landfill gas primarily to generate steam for heating and compressed air for most of the year.

According to GM, both the Sonic and Verano use a new eco paint that eliminates the need for a primer oven and increases quality and appearance due to waterborne base coats.

Running a full three-shift capacity, the Michigan plant will reduce greenhouse gas production by about 80,000 metric tons, the equivalent of 14,000 vehicles per year, and the electricity reduction equals the output from 3,500 homes. This will save the automaker $1.1 million a year in energy costs.

From 2005 to 2009 Orion Assembly Plant workers reduced total waste by 26 percent. General Motors

"Orion is a great example of the latest technologies employed by GM manufacturing around the globe," said Eric Stevens, GM vice president of Global Manufacturing Engineering. "As we converted the facility to support the small car program, we took every opportunity to engineer in flexibility and lean manufacturing concepts."

Use of landfill gas is just one of the ways the plant lessens its environmental impact. GM has also made lighting system upgrades that save more than 5,944 megawatts of electricity per year (at a cost savings of $430,000) and has cut carbon dioxide by 3,676 metric tons.

Plant workers track energy use on an hourly basis with sophisticated software, enabling them to see real-time usage by department to improve their equipment shutdown activities, GM said.

"Environmentally friendly choices often translate to higher efficiency and quality," said Maureen Midgley, GM executive director of Global Manufacturing Engineering.