With an array of photovoltaic solar panels covering nearly half of the roof at Aquafil's Cartersville facility, the Italian company likely holds the record for largest rooftop solar panel installation in the state.
At a total maximum capacity of 400 kW, the 1,572 solar panels atop Aquafil went online late last month and are expected to produce about 525,000 kWh annually.
"As far as we know, this is the largest rooftop [solar panel] installation in Georgia," said Aquafil USA President Franco Rossi. "We wanted to put our money where our mouth is. We like to be identified as an environmentally conscious company. So we decided to invest some significant money -- it's pretty much a $1 million project."
Although the energy created with help from the sun's rays only covers a small fraction of the plant's overall energy need, Aquafil has made the investment to solidify their commitment to reducing the company's carbon footprint and take steps toward sustainability.
A manufacturer of synthetic fibers and polymers, Aquafil creates carpet fiber from nylon pellets in a heat and energy intensive process called extrusion. The solar panels now helping to power the plant will produce only about 2 to 4 percent of the facility's annual electrical need.
"This plant is very energy intensive -- a lot of motors, a lot of extruders, which require heating. So it's a substantial power user. This is enough to have one extruder running," Rossi said. "It's a significant investment for a fairly small output. So you need some level of personal motivation to do it. If you purely look at the economics, it's hard to justify.
"But it's a step in the right direction. It's a way to try to contribute and reduce carbon dioxide emissions and the use of fossil fuels."
In addition to the solar panel installation, Aquafil has incorporated several business strategies and equipment replacements to better manage resources. Some of those decisions have paid for themselves, including a switch to energy efficient lighting, while others were primarily made to further the company's environmental goals.
"The company has grown every year for the past 12 years," said Vice President of Operations Robert Rebello. "The company sources high-efficiency motors to keep the consumption down as part of their purchasing plans. From the distribution, we do a power correction to limit distribution losses to save energy. The company has gone through and updated all the lighting in the facility to reduce energy consumption.
"Some of these don't have the best return on investment but it's something that is a commitment for Aquafil."
The efforts of Aquafil USA are a small part of the global company's overall initiative. Of the product lines created at the Cartersville facility, Aquafil proudly creates Econyl, a 100 percent sustainable fiber made of recycled carpet and other nylon products.
"Nylon is typically made out of crude oil. So by recycling, we limit the usage of crude oil. Of course it's a small part but everybody has to do his own small part," Rossi said. "We hope to reduce our footprint on Earth. We hope to reduce and minimize the impact we have on the Earth ecosystem -- still doing our manufacturing, still making a product but without compromising the natural resources which are used to make our product.
"It's a matter of being a good citizen of the world. Just trying to leave the world as good as we found it."