December 2014 | Cynthia Rodrigues

Engineering a sustainable future

For over five decades, Tata Consulting Engineers has been crafting sustainable solutions for its clients, backed by its innovative spirit and engineering expertise

Tata Consulting Engineers (TCE) has built a reputation for providing best-in-class integrated engineering consultancy solutions. With over five decades of experience covering almost all key industry segments and capabilities to handle multi-dimensional, large-scale assignments in any part of the globe, the company has developed the ability to provide holistic, sustainable solutions to its clients.

As JP Haran, managing director of TCE, explains, "Today more and more businesses are realising the need to adopt sustainable practices; and those that don't are being forced to by governments and laws that are becoming more and more stringent. There is a pressing need to think sustainability." It is this critical need to safeguard the future of our businesses, and, indeed, of our planet and people, that has prompted TCE to focus on devising engineering solutions that help its customers to reduce their carbon footprint and meet their sustainability goals.

Building for generations
The impact of this futuristic thinking is most clearly seen in the company's infrastructure business, because of the size and scope of the projects it handles. Vikram Bapat, head of infrastructure, explains, "We operate in sectors like water, urban development, manufacturing facilities, IT parks, special economic zones, townships and hospitals, which touch a substantial part of the spectrum of infrastructure development within the Indian context. Since these are all structures that have an impact on the economic development of the country and affect society at large, we strive to ensure that our solutions are state-of-the-art in terms of engineering expertise and sustainability."

In this context, TCE has extended the tenets of the LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] rating, meant for buildings, to its other projects, particularly manufacturing facilities. Among its high-impact projects is the urban renewal project for the Rajasthan Urban Infrastructure Development Project, which involves working within socio-political and infrastructural constraints to introduce sustainability elements into the water distribution and sanitation systems of existing towns. TCE was successful in doubling the water supply in some cities while reducing the specific energy consumption to half the existing level.

Often problems are specific to sectors and locales. The water management and distribution vertical, for instance, had to tackle the problem of water going waste because of leakages, pipe bursts and water pilferage. TCE came up with several innovative solutions, one of which was 'tanker technology', which was effectively deployed in Hyderabad, Chennai and Kathmandu. It involved isolating the affected area from the supply network to inhibit the flow of the water, and then pumping a tanker of water into the distribution network to create pressure in the system and thus detect the leakage.

TCE's project on the air pollution management system for Tata Steel in Jamshedpur helped monitor pollution levels and minimise gaseous emissions. Over a century old, the plant, built as per the norms existing then, did not meet the revised compliance requirements and needed upgradation. The challenge lay in doing this without disrupting the running plant. Thinking innovatively, TCE suggested implementation methodologies which not only solved the problem but also reduced the total suspended particulate matter by close to 40 percent.

TCE took up the execution of the World Bank-funded project to clean the river Ganga at Allahabad and Kanpur
The World Bank-funded project to clean the river Ganga at Allahabad and Kanpur afforded TCE yet another opportunity to find a solution that reduced environmental damage. Apart from sewage, the industrial pollution of the river was a major concern, particularly lead and cadmium discharges from these locations. Given the responsibility of creating a purification system and diverting the pollution load, TCE built in arrests at various points to prevent the sewage from entering the river. It also provided sewage treatment plants in both cities, which ensured cost-effectiveness while addressing the pollution management guidelines. This solution now serves as a blueprint for the entire clean-up programme.

TCE’s infrastructure business has been accredited by the National Accreditation Board for Education and Training (a part of the Quality Council of India), for conducting environmental impact assessment studies for environmental clearance, due diligence and statutory compliance in more than 18 sectors within India. Mr Bapat says, "We have a diversified business, which has yielded us domain knowledge in a range of sectors. Our knowledge base enables us to customise technologies to suit the engineering needs of clients and the specific needs of each sector."

Proving their mettle
The steel, metals and mining business of TCE, in keeping with the company's commitment to finding sustainable solutions, factors in the conservation of energy and resources, and the protection of the environment in all its projects. Confirming this, Dr Tapan Choudhury, head of the steel, metals and mining business, says, "We make sure that the projects we undertake are sustainable from a long-term perspective."

This requires all operations to meet environmental needs for managing ecological disruption, emissions and waste, and ensuring the optimal use of water. Due consideration is given to natural elements at the planning stage, and high-end IT applications are employed to optimise the use of natural resources, especially in mine planning.

Project teams carry out impact assessment studies and recommend risk mitigation measures, at the beginning of every project. At Tata Steel's ferrochrome project in Gopalpur, Odisha, for instance, the environmental impact assessment study ensured that the local community was protected. Such preventive measures, prior to commissioning of new projects, help companies to mitigate risks and implement sustainable and effective solutions.

Among its many businesses, TCE's mining business shoulders the highest degree of environmental responsibility. The safety of mine workers and the community, besides the need to achieve commercial success to ensure sustainability, makes it necessary to optimise the process of extraction of mineral resources. The life cycle of the mining business, spanning the spectrum from prospecting to exploration, mine closure and reclamation of the land, demands that utmost care be taken to ensure that environment and community interests are sustained. To ensure this, TCE's solutions address the optimum utilisation of land for the management of waste and the reclamation of external dumping sites, maximisation of the mine life, ore and waste rock haulage, and water management. Conservation of raw material and recycling to ensure zero waste optimises material usage. With a view to promoting the longevity of the mine and ensuring sustainability, the company also ensures that once the mine is closed, the remaining reserve is sterilised, enabling future use if conditions become favourable again.

Dr Choudhury says, "Traditionally, mines were abandoned, after excavations were no longer possible. Planning the closure of the mines and recharging the aquifers are two new phenomena that are helping to ensure the preservation of the natural ecosystem. TCE has proposed innovative solutions in mine-void filling to optimise resource utilisation.

Power-packed performance
While uninterrupted supply of power is the assurance that fuels industrial development, it demands responsibility on the part of industry to ward off environmental concerns. Clean technologies, cost-efficient processes in ultra super critical thermal plants and a move towards renewable and alternative sources of power generation will ensure that development is sustained and environment-friendly.

TCE's power business unit has come up with an innovative process in flue gas desulphurisation (FGD) systems, which reduces emissions of sulphur dioxide from the exhaust flue gas of coal-fired thermal power plants by almost 90 to 95 percent. Mohan Murthy, head of the power business, says, "TCE successfully retrofitted an FGD system to a completed coastal thermal power plant within 24 months, without disturbing the topography of the plant site, and by curtailing project cost escalations. This innovative process has applications in greenfield and brownfield coal-fired power plants." TCE has filed an application for a patent for this process, and was also honoured at Tata Innovista 2014 with the award for Promising Innovation — Core Process.

Cleaner chemicals
The chemical business of the company works with the chemical, petrochemical, oil and gas, fertiliser, paper and pulp, and related industries, and follows innovative solutions in its pursuit of sustainability. TCE is working on a project to find a use for red mud, the waste from the bauxite industry, which is usually dumped in landfills. World over, about 130 million tonnes of red mud are generated annually, leading to the accumulation of about 2.7 billion tonnes of this waste product. TCE is working on a technology that aims to re-use red mud to recover valuable metals like aluminium, titanium and iron. The possibilities of this project are immense.

Another interesting project that TCE is working on for Tata Steel involves studying the feasibility of a plant with two processes. As BM Nichat, vice president of the chemical business, says, "India has the fifth highest coal reserves in the world, with coal containing 35 percent of ash, rendering it less efficient. This project includes a coal washery, meant to make the coal more efficient. If this pilot process proves effective, it will reduce the incidence of ash to 4-12 percent." TCE is trying its best to make this happen.

Environment first
Ecofirst, a 100 percent subsidiary of TCE, is a sustainable design consulting firm for the built environment. Through an array of integrated services for master planning, water, energy, solid waste, infrastructure through a "water and energy centric" approach to projects, Ecofirst designs innovative and affordable solutions. Chitranjan Kaushik, chief operating officer, affirms this: 'Our goal is to balance sustainability with affordability, integrate traditional solutions with modern techniques, create self-sufficient communities and spread awareness on sustainability." Ecofirst seeks to help clients reduce their operational and maintenance costs by adopting energy and water management strategies and getting buildings certified as green buildings. The company also works with TCE's other business units to bolster their sustainability offerings.

Ecofirst, a TCE subsidiary, helped Bombay House, the Tata group headquarters in Mumbai, to get a gold rating in LEED certification
One of Ecofirst's most recent achievements was helping Bombay House, the Tata group's historic headquarters in Mumbai, become the first heritage building in India to get a Gold rating in LEED certification.

Technology as a tool
Technology has put a higher standard of living within our reach while requiring companies and individuals to adopt sustainable methods of living and working to ensure that man does not take the generosity of the earth for granted.

At TCE, everyone understands the value of technology in making sustainable development a reality. The technology vertical, with chief technology officer Mahesh Marve at the helm, works with all other verticals and units in the organisation. It evaluates new technologies and helps in incorporating them in TCE's various projects. For the purpose of aligning this process very closely to the work, each business unit has a head of technology who is responsible for keeping abreast of technology advancements in their area and integrating them with the solutions they devise. Amit Sharma, ED and COO, says, "Technology helps us to enhance our techniques while keeping abreast with trends. The technology team will contribute to R&D within TCE." The knowledge will then be disseminated across the organisation.

Explaining the importance of sharing the knowledge acquired by the technology group, Mr Marve says, "Communication is the key factor. The standard design documents and guides are continually updated with the latest advancements in design practices, to ensure uniformity across the organisation. Knowledge sharing and training sessions have been planned to ensure that changes in design tools and technologies are shared with everyone."

With several innovations over the last five decades, TCE is not about to slow down. 'At TCE we believe that every engineer loves to innovate,' says Mr Haran, 'This enabler, coupled with the customer's demand for greater value in terms of quality of systems as well as cost savings, helps us to measure and track the sustainable value we create. This encourages us to improve."

With the backing of its engineering expertise and spirit of innovation, TCE is firmly on the road to a sustainable future.