Green roof yielding benefits for Ford

Covering just over 138,000 square meters, the green roof at the Ford Rouge Centre Complex was named largest green roof in the world by Guiness Book of World Records in 2004.

The facility, near Dearborn, Michigan, manufactures trucks in a factory that was originally opened in 1928 and saw more than 100,000 workers employed there at the height of its operations. Over the years, the plant has produced iconic Ford models, such as the Mustang and the Thunderbird, and has also built tractors and anti-submarine warfare boats during times of war.

Today, the factory remains Ford’s largest, employing more than 6,000 workers, but it may best be known for its positive environmental impact, its energy efficiency, and sustainability efforts.

The key component of the factory is its green roof, sometimes called by Ford officials as a living roof.

One of the main energy efficiency advantages from the green roof is in the form of shade from trees. Trellises mounted across 75 percent of the roof encourage vertical growth of plant and small trees. This creates shading that serves as a natural insulation for the truck manufacturing plant, reducing cooling costs, and keeping temperatures an average of 10 degrees Fahrenheit or 12 degree Celsius cooler in the summer.

The green roof is made of sedum, a drought resistant perennial ground cover that is in a bed of several layers, specifically designed to reduce weight. As such, it weighs approximately 1.4 kilograms per square meter. The living roof includes 85,000 flowering plants, more than 20,000 shrubs, and hundreds of trees. Not only does it provide natural insulation for the facility, but Ford said it mitigates the urban heat island effect at the site, treats and retains storm water, improves air quality, and helps restore the area eco structure.

Furthermore, the roof is expected to last twice as long as a traditionally constructed industrial roof.

Ford’s engineers estimate that the green roof has reduced energy use by approximately 7 percent. In addition to the benefits from ambient cooling, the green roof is estimated to improve the air quality above the factory by 40 percent, through dust absorption and the decomposition of hydrocarbons.

Highly efficient heating, cooling, and ventilation systems also captures the cool air at night in Michigan, to be used for cooling during the day. Solar collectors on the ground are used to heat water for the facility.

The factory launched an innovative program, called Fumes to Fuel, which generates 5 KW of electricity from paint fumes. The fumes are converted into hydrogen fuel for fuel cells, producing electricity that is then distributed to the plant’s energy grid. However, at this facility, the Fuel to Fumes program, along with photovoltaic solar cells, replace only about five percent of the facilities energy needs.

That said, Ford’s Fumes to Fuel program has been expanded to other Ford factories on a larger scale and with increased success. For example, Ford’s Oakville, Ontario, Canada plant has launched the program with powerful results, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 88 percent and generating 300 kilowatts of energy an hour when operating at full capacity. That energy would power approximately 30 homes.

Ford’s Fumes to Fuel system has received a Clean Air Excellence Award from the United States Environmental Protection agency and may empower Ford to replace a greater portion of its manufacturing electricity demands with clean energy.

One other significant area of savings is in storm water reclamation.

Water runoff from the factory and the parking lot was causing the Rouge River, which is adjacent to the plant, to be severely polluted. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency demanded a program to claim and clean the polluted water before it reached the river. Estimates for a water treatment plant were in the range of $50 million U.S.

However, the green roof and other ecological improvements, including gray water reclamation systems, “wet meadows” on the land around the plant, and establishing shallow, tree-lined ditches, handled the problem of runoff to the satisfaction of the EPA. The price tag was only $15 million.

An integrated irrigation system relies on the reclaimed water and also helps deliver fertilizer to the green roof about once a year.

The storm water reclamation and cleaning program covers the plant and the surrounding property, impacting more than 2,428,000 square meters of ground and facilities. It is estimated that the water program retains approximately 1,692,079 liters of rainwater per year. Excess rainwater travels through a series of wetland ponds and swales, undergoing natural treatment, before being returned to the Rouge River.

Other ecological improvements, not associated with energy efficiency, have been noted.

Ford released more than 20,000 honeybees into the environment, in three hives. They not only pollenate the plant life in the green roof, but they also have helped attract birds, insects, and other small wildlife back to the area.

The factory, which is historic site, has become a tourist attraction, and Ford has constructed a visitor center and observation decks so visitors and students can study the green roof in person. Due to this, Ford has launched a visitor education program at the factory.

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