What Processors are Doing to Improve Energy Management

Energy management suddenly has taken on grave importance. Read what Tyson, ConAgra, Publix and other processors are doing to reduce consumption and find altneratives.

By Mike Pehanich, Plant Operations Editor

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Plants monitor BTU usage, and plant personnel use a score card to report and review energy usage at weekly plant meetings.

Publix: Small things add up

Energy consultants and utilities providers have audited the energy efficiency of Publix Super Markets' processing plants in Lakeland, Fla. Scott Charlton, senior vice president of manufacturing and distribution, notes that a lot of small conversion and maintenance measures can add up to substantial energy savings. Some of those "small" things:


    • Removing cross-contamination of heat and cold and condensation within the deli plant.

    • Finding areas where variable speed motors can be installed.

    • Proper insulation of piping.

    • Using efficient compressors and roof-top units and maintaining equipment to ensure that efficiency.

    • Properly removing humidity and heat.

    • Repairing leaks in compressed air lines.

    • Preventive maintenance of steam traps.

  • Preventive maintenance of refrigeration systems, including cleaning of coils and filters.


Three years ago, Publix launched a company-wide energy conservation program. Part of that program, which extended to both processing operations and retail stores, was the "Green Routine," a reminder to company associates of the usual, simple measures they can take to conserve energy. Those measures include turning off computer monitors and lights in meeting rooms and restrooms when the rooms are not in use.

Following Hurricane Katrina, Florida businesses were asked to reduce energy consumption. Publix reduced lighting in its 864 stores by one-third and ran signage and major media ads explaining the purpose of the temporary measures.

ConAgra: Sustainable development

The Sustainable Development program of ConAgra is entering its 15th year. The Omaha, Neb.-based food giant launched the effort as a means of finding and implementing practices that would be simultaneously good for business and the environment. In 2004, the company reported a five-year reduction in operational costs of more than $60 million.

No surprise, then, that energy-saving measures have topped its list of concerns over the past two years. In 2004, ConAgra cut its electrical usage by 24 million kwh and reduced natural gas consumption by more than 3 million therms. Such measures went a long way toward effecting the $12.7 million savings in operational costs for the year.

Energy-saving measures dominate the program's highlights. Its Grocery Foods plant in Oakdale, Calif., cut its natural gas input costs by capturing process steam and reducing overall process steam requirements (with its T-60 evaporation system). Another Grocery Foods plant, in Newport, Tenn., installed boiler economizers to capture flue gases to reduce use of electricity and natural gas. It also installed new air compressors and repaired numerous minor air leaks for additional savings.

Like Tyson and other companies with high organic product utilization, ConAgra also found abundant energy sources in the midst of its processing operations. A potato products plant in Taber, Alberta, introduced an anaerobic digestion system that produces methane gas, a low-cost and environmentally safe fuel.

ConAgra credited its Mason City, Iowa, plant with the Sustainable Development program's Best New Technology. The plant improved energy and water efficiency by adding a ham cook and chill system that uses outside storage tanks to maintain reusable process water at the right temperatures for its continuous process.

Unified effort in the Pacific Northwest

In 2002, the Northwest Food Processors Assn. (www.nwfpa.org), Portland, Ore., launched a major energy management initiative for its 486 members in California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho. Securing a U.S. Dept. of Energy grant and taking lessons from energy measures employed in other industries, the program seeks to "build tangible commitments to continuous improvement in energy efficiency, from fields to processing and packaging plants," says NWFPA president Dave Zepponi. Its programs and instruction have given members energy savings and productivity gains.

NWFPA has partnered with the Industrial Efficiency Alliance, an organization promoting the incorporation of energy management into business strategies. Together, the parties have worked with local utilities to enhance the energy management capabilities of member processors.

Case studies culled from its members' successes have modeled sound energy management practices and demonstrated how creative thinking and awareness of options can open doors to major savings.

Canner saves nearly $80,000

Energy engineer Rob Morton of Cascade Energy Engineering investigated the energy use of Truitt Bros., a canner located in the town of West Salem in Oregon's Willamette Valley. The primary energy hog was an ammonia-based refrigeration system built in 1971. It consisted of a 54,000-sq.-ft. freezer kept at -10ºF and an 18,000-sq.-ft. cooler kept at 32ºF.


Energy management: Truitt Bros. control center
Truitt Bros. special projects engineer Dean Pemble peers into the control center of the system that saves the company nearly $71,000 a year.

Five compressors, cooled with a closed glycol loop, served the system. They consisted of two rotary vane booster compressors, a high-stage screw compressor and two high-stage reciprocating compressors. Compressors, condensers and evaporators were electro-mechanically controlled, each independently.

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