As a manufacturer of many high-performance, leading-edge products, GE uses a number of high-value critical materials in our products and manufacturing operations. GE uses rare earth elements in our high-efficiency lighting products; in the coatings of aircraft engine and gas turbine components; and in the detectors of medical imaging equipment. As worldwide demand for many of these materials increases, there are emerging concerns about the risk of supply disruptions and the environmental impact of extracting ore and refining it for these materials. At GE, a special emphasis has been placed on optimizing our use of these materials. Current GE efforts include: improvements in our manufacturing operations to increase yield; recovery of the materials from nontraditional sources; and development of technologies that can reduce our demand for these materials.
Examples of recent projects focused on waste:
- In support of GE’s sustainability priorities, the GE Aviation facility in Petropolis, Brazil, conceived the idea of capturing value from packaging materials through a program called “Reverse Logistics – Reuse and Recycling of Wooden Boxes and Pallets.” Previously, the packaging materials for imported aeronautical parts were disposed of as waste. This project involved inspecting, repairing, and reusing boxes and pallets. Reusing packaging eliminated the costs of purchasing new boxes or the raw materials used to manufacture them. Boxes and pallets that cannot be reused in on-site operations are donated to a local social project supported by VOCE (Volunteers CELMA), where these materials are recycled and made into furniture and fixtures, generating job opportunities and income for the local community.
- Ongoing waste reduction activities at the Erie, PA, Transportation facility are being implemented to further reduce the site’s environmental impact and drive resource efficiency. The site installed a solvent-recovery system to recycle used solvent from locomotive painting operations, which now recovers nearly all the solvents. Recycling reduces the need to purchase new product and allows solvent to be reused instead of being sent off-site for disposal. The site has also installed an engine coolant recycling system to recycle engine coolant, preventing purchase of new coolant and allowing treated fluids to be reused. Together, these two targeted waste recovery and recycling systems have saved nearly 18,000 gallons of solvent and more than 49,000 gallons of coolant per year, resulting in impressive annual cost savings.
- The import and handling of hazardous materials are a particularly significant challenge in countries in the Middle East. Facilities handling hazardous materials must carefully manage details such as the materials’ location, type, quantity, validity, storage, usage, and even specific ambient temperatures. Complex customs clearance procedures and logistics to move materials in and out of remote sites add to the challenge, often resulting in the need to reorder materials that expire or are damaged before use. To improve effectiveness, GE Power Services Saudi developed a “Hazmat Inventory tracker.” The tool can give a complete inventory of hazmat materials, help to realize significant cost reductions, protect the environment by reusing leftover hazmat materials, eliminate the time-consuming exchange of communications, and increase productivity for site teams.