Air recirculation system in Robins paint depaint facility earns special recognition

  • Published
  • By Holly L. Birchfield
  • 78th ABW/PA
An air recirculation system used to give workers clean air to breathe in the paint depaint facility in Bldg. 59 at Robins recently received special recognition for its environmental and safety benefits.

The project was recognized in early July as part of the "You Have the Power" campaign under the Federal Energy Management program with the Department of Energy. The campaign began in 1997, with 20 federal agencies participating in the drive.

Jerry Thovson, base project manager in the 778th Civil Engineer Squadron's Design and Construction Management Branch, said the program helps the agencies reach milestones in energy savings.

"(The campaign) helps federal agencies reach their energy goals by raising awareness about energy efficiency of federal agencies and recognizing innovative energy and water-saving practices and technologies," he said.

The 225,000-square-foot paint depaint facility, which is located just inside Gate 2 at Green Street, is comprised of two 65,000-square-foot bays used for the paint and depaint process of C-5 Galaxy, C-17 Globemaster III, and other similar-sized aircraft.

Mr. Thovson said the facility's paint bay is now in full operation and has processed five air craft to date. The facility's depaint bay is expected to become operational by December.

The new facility's air recirculation system works by taking the 2.5 million cubic feet per minute of air that is required to be processed through the hangar's bays and returning 80 percent of that air flow as clean air.

The air, which has been heated or cooled and humidity controlled, represents a lot of energy that is being returned into the system instead of being exhausted out of the stacks, Mr. Thovson said. He said the air recirculation system means big savings for Robins.

"By doing air recirculation, we've reduced the peak cooling electrical demands from over six megawatts to just one and a half," he said.

To put those statistics into perspective, Mr. Thovson said the base runs about 60 megawatts. Without air recirculation, the Paint-Depaint Facility would've easily gone up to 30 percent of the entire base's load in that one building.

The project manager said the building's natural gas demand was reduced from more than 200,000 cubic feet per hour to less than 50,000.

In all, the air recirculation system saves about $2 million in heating and cooling costs each year. That money will go to support flying missions, Mr. Thovson said.

Monetary savings are only half of the system's benefits.

Toni Hurley, an industrial hygienist in the 78th Aerospace Medicine Squadron, said the health and safety of workers in the facility was as important as energy savings.

"My part of (the project) was to be sure that it was in compliance with Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations and that workers were always in a healthy situation," she said.

Ms. Hurley said after some debate with team members and OSHA reps to work out the details of the system, the team implemented a three-stage filtering mechanism where air goes through and is monitored for organic chemicals.

"If at some point our monitor detects high levels of chemicals in that recirculated air, it will shut down paint guns and it will automatically bring in 100 percent fresh air so that workers will never be compromised," she said.

Audible and visual alarms will also be indicators to workers if chemicals are detected in the recirculated air, Ms. Hurley said.

Kyle Moody, a mechanical engineer in the 402nd Aircraft Maintenance Group's Aircraft Maintenance Support Squadron who represents facility users' needs in the project, said the system went over well with workers.

"The workers are real happy with what they've seen so far, and looking at Bldg. 54 where they're coming from. (One of the workers) said, 'We went from the Beverly hillbillies to Beverly Hills.' They've got a really nice facility," Mr. Moody said.

The air recirculation process is constant when the paint process is ongoing, Mr. Thovson said. All air on the dock is completely washed every two to three minutes.

The "You Have the Power" campaign poster series highlights extraordinary contributions of both people and projects. The posters recognize innovative energy and water-saving practices and technologies. Posters from the campaign will be distributed throughout the Air Force as part of Energy Awareness Month in October.