Auto auctions strive to reduce carbon footprint

Solar panels installed on top of Manheimís detail shop in Bordentown, N.J., began capturing the sunís rays in January. The panels generate 15 percent of the shopís electricity, powering lighting, vacuums and mechanical lifts.
Last November, 705 solar panels were installed at Manheim's auction site in Bordentown, N.J. The panels cover the 42,000-square-foot roof of the detail shop.

In January, the panels began capturing the sun's rays and converting them into electricity. The panels will produce 136 megawatt-hours of electricity annually, meeting 15 percent of the shop's electricity needs. The juice is used to power the shop's lighting, vacuums and mechanical lifts.

The solar panels are the latest initiative in "Go Green," a companywide program to find environmentally responsible ways to do business, says David Munnikhuysen, Manheim's vice president for best practices. That initiative shows how auto auctions, like other sectors of the automotive industry, are seeking a greener path.

The nation's largest auto auction company also is engaged in water treatment and recycling and uses water-based paints in its body shops to reduce emissions.

Go Green supports a national program at parent company Cox Enterprises Inc. aimed at reducing the company's carbon footprint by 20 percent by 2017. A carbon footprint measures the impact of human activities on the environment in terms of the amount of greenhouse gases produced.

"Manheim looked within our auction group, and we did a review to understand where in the auction process we had to take up this cause," Munnikhuysen says.

Watching water
At Manheimís auto auction site in Manheim, Pa., the water conservation center

-- Treats 42,000 gallons of wastewater daily

-- Produces 25,000 gallons of reusable water daily

-- Extracts 68 tons of contaminants from wastewater annually

-- Saves 8 million gallons of water annually

Source: Manheim

Selling solar credits

Steven Bradley, director of engineering, alternate energy and business continuity at Cox Enterprises, says the use of the solar panels is part of the New Jersey Clean Energy Program. The state program supports businesses in selling solar renewable-energy credits to local utilities.

Bradley says the second phase of the New Jersey project calls for the construction of a 70,000-square-foot free-standing canopy whose solar panels will add 580 kilowatts of electricity to the existing system. The system will provide 30 percent of the energy used in the main auction building.

"The state of New Jersey wants 22.5 percent of their energy to come from sustainable sources by 2021," Bradley says. "It has been written into law."

Adds Mike Mannheimer, vice president of supply chain services at Cox: "We want to be a good corporate citizen and protect the environment and inspire employees and their families to do the same thing."

Manheim also wants to be a better environmental steward of the water it uses. The company has a wastewater treatment system at its auction house in Manheim, Pa. The 33-auction-lane site is the company's largest, handling more than 500,000 vehicles a year.

25 gallons x 700 cars

The water conservation center is housed in a 4,000-square-foot building. The center handles the wastewater generated at the site's detail shop, where up to 700 vehicles a day are cleaned with soap, degreasers and high-pressure hot water.

Detailing uses 25 gallons of water per car. The used water contains hazardous wastes such as oil, gasoline and brake dust.

The system cleans the water by using microorganisms to consume organic materials such as oil, soap and grease. Ultrafiltration membranes separate suspended solids not consumed by the microorganisms, then reverse-osmosis membranes remove dissolved solids.

Each day the system treats 42,000 gallons of wastewater to produce 25,000 gallons that the company can reuse immediately. The rest, while substantially cleaner than before treatment, is disposed of as wastewater.

Mark Mathews is director of used-vehicle activities at General Motors, which sends thousands of vehicles to Manheim auctions for remarketing. He has seen the water treatment system and calls it "quite impressive."

"We want all of our suppliers to be environmentally conscious, but it is a complex issue that you can't just approach helter-skelter," Mathews says. "Manheim Pennsylvania has approached it very thoughtfully. The auction is of a size that they get huge efficiencies because of the volume of vehicles they put through that auction."

In April, Manheim opened a second water conservation center at its auction site in Atlanta. The company held a grand opening of the site June 5.

ADESA Inc., the nation's second-largest auction company, also has made environmental strides.

For example, a project to relocate ADESA's Dallas auction site includes pursuing certification of the site for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design — known as LEED. The U.S. Green Building Council, an architectural group, will verify that the site meets specific criteria in deciding whether to certify the facility.

The design and construction of the site will be monitored in the following categories: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, indoor environmental air quality, and materials and resources.

Cleaner paint

Manheim also is switching from paints using petroleum solvents to water-based paints in its body shops, Munnikhuysen says. That reduces the release of byproducts called volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, into the air.

Water-based paint calls for different mixing and application techniques. The paint booth requires different air flows and temperatures. Those differences call for employees to be retrained, Munnikhuyen says.

About a year ago, the Manheim, Pa., site switched to the new paint process. The company is converting about one auction location a month to the new process. As of mid-May, 15 locations were using water-based paints.

"VOCs are a major constituent of air pollution," Munnikhuysen says. "They're nasty things, and they are not good to breathe. They are the unfortunate byproduct of solvent evaporating from cars." 

You can reach Arlena Sawyers at asawyers@crain.com

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