“Ten years ago, when we didn't even know what sustainability meant, being efficient was just a matter of doing what’s appropriate and what made financial sense in terms of energy savings," says Larry Pfeil. Today, the 36-year veteran of Hormel Foods (www.hormelfoods.com), Austin, Minn., and vice president of engineering heads a team building one of the most efficient, eco-friendly plants in the food industry.
The plant, which broke ground July 25 in Dubuque, Iowa, is designed to gain certification under the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program (www.usgbc.org), which establishes guidelines for sustainable, environmentally friendly buildings.
Targeted for completion in November 2009, the $89-million, 342,000-sq.-ft. facility will add needed capacity for the company’s Compleats shelf-stable, microwavable meals as well as for future expansion. Operated by Hormel through a wholly owned subsidiary, it may become the first USDA-inspected food production plant to gain a LEED silver, gold or platinum designation based upon the total credits or points it earns for its “green” practices in six areas:
- Materials and resources (13 points)
- Indoor environmental quality (15 points)
- Energy and atmosphere (17 points)
- Sustainable sites (14 points)
- Water efficiency (5 points)
- Innovation and design process (5 points)
Silver, gold and platinum point levels are set at 33, 39 and 52 respectively upon project completion. To maintain certification, the plant also must maintain and document follow-up practices.
Officials from Hormel, Gleeson Constructors and city of Dubuque, Iowa, broke ground July 25 on the $89-million, 342,000-sq.-ft. plant, which should open in November 2009.
To date, few food and beverage facilities have gained LEED certification, and fewer still — only two are on-record — are processing facilities: a PepsiCo Gatorade bottling plant in Virginia and Kettle Foods’ potato chip factory in Wisconsin, which Hormel engineers visited for early fact-finding (see sidebar,“Early LEED adopters”). Distribution centers and warehouses are easier to get LEED-certified.
Lacking a directly applicable plant whose example they could follow, Hormel’s top management gave engineering the green light and a blank sheet of paper to blaze a trail consistent with its corporate sustainability goals.
To get their plans on paper, Pfeil and Chad Sayles, supervising staff engineer, turned to longtime partner, design-build firm Gleeson Constructors LLC (www.gleesonllc.com), Sioux City, Iowa, and worked alongside Ron Rens, Gleeson executive vice president, and Tyler Manker, project manager. This is the first LEED project for both Hormel and Gleeson; both Hormel’s Sayles and Gleeson’s Manker studied and obtained LEED Accredited Professional status.
Manufacturing design challenges
If LEED were a roadmap, it would include major highways and points of interest but not the local streets. The program has a few different rating systems for specific applications such as residential building, commercial and schools, but there are no specific guidelines for manufacturing and none for food.
“Figuring out how to apply LEED to our project was one of the biggest challenges,” Sayles says. For example, in areas dealing with energy optimization, point levels are benchmarked against standards set by ASHRAE, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning, which doesn’t always apply to food processing.
“For most of the energy and most of the water consumed in our facility, there is no baseline published in a standard,” says Sayles. “You can’t look under ‘R’ for retort to find a design standard that will let us say, ‘Our retort is 15 percent more efficient,’ so we can get the LEED points for that improvement.” It’s unlikely there will ever be such standards for retorts, fillers and other specialized machinery and process equipment, especially since many are customized models.
“It would be nice if LEED had a modified rating system for manufacturing plants the way it does for office buildings or schools,” Rens adds. “But we look at it this way: The cost of energy isn’t likely to come down. And whatever you can do to reduce your energy use is just good business, whether or not you get a LEED point for it.”
Overcoming the challenges of early adoption entails both risks and rewards. There are, however some mechanisms in the LEED program that mitigate that risk. A “credit interpretation request” process may allow Hormel to work with program administrators to devise an appropriate rating where no benchmark exists. Additionally, the Innovation & Design Process area of LEED leaves open opportunities to earn Innovation in Design points when a project demonstrates a “substantial, environmental-friendly design practice that goes above and beyond the standard criteria,” Manker says.
The Dubuque plant’s design may earn some of those “above and beyond” points in areas including recycling, water and heat efficiency. In the Materials & Resources category, Hormel use of recycled content in construction may earn it extra points if it exceeds 75 percent. The shell alone will top 58 percent recycled content through the use of recycled precast concrete, steel and other materials.
In addition to using recycled construction materials, the Dubuque plant will manage construction waste, using separate dumpsters and recycling scrap wood, steel, concrete and paper-based materials. Extra LEED credits may come in two more areas with particularly positive impact.
“The biggest thing Hormel is doing in this regard is a new heat recovery system, which may earn the project extra points,” says Rens. He credits Sayles as “the mastermind” behind the mechanical designs that will recover heat from ammonia and air compressors, boilers and other systems. This heat will be routed to a holding tank and used to heat the plant’s offices as well as preheating water for plant washdown uses.
Hormel also will score Water Efficiency points and perhaps extra credits for its use of a “gray water” system that will replace 100 percent of the water used to flush toilets, versus the typical 20-30 percent for which LEED awards credit in the typical commercial/office application.
“It all adds up,” Sayles says. “That water would normally go down the drain because it’s no longer potable. Now it can be used.”
Heat recovery: beyond geothermal
Booming year-over-year sales of Hormel’s shelf-stable Compleats led to plans for the new plant in Dubuque, Iowa.
Water recovery has found its engineering match in Hormel’s latest heat recovery designs, which will reclaim enough heat throughout the plant to heat 100 percent of the plant’s process sanitation water. So when the plant’s retort cookers enter the cooling cycle, Sayles explains, “rather than just reject that heat energy to the atmosphere with a cooling tower or down the drain, as has been done traditionally, we've engineered the process so we can actually save that energy.”
This amounts to the industrial equivalent of geothermal energy, which gets a lot of attention in the green home-building world for its use of ground-source heat pumps that extract heat from or return heat to the ground to regulate interior heating or cooling.
“But for our project, we believe we’ve one-upped that common type of geothermal usage,” says Sayles. Hormel’s system will work “very much like a conventional geo-thermal system, but instead of using the ground, we’re using energy that’s already available out in the plant, making it substantially more efficient.” In summer, heat shed from offices will feed the process, while in winter, process heat is fed to office heating.
It’s a more closed-loop system that bypasses the “geo” altogether. It might be... aero-thermal?
Additional energy conservation and savings will come from HVAC systems, which should gain credits in the LEED category of Energy & Atmosphere. “What you can measure and control, you can improve,” Pfeil explains. Toward this end, the new plant will track energy use with a new level of specificity. Instead of the traditional “main utility room” approach and total-plant utility measurement, the plant is broken into several zones, each with its own metering devices and controls.
“We won’t just know that we’ve used X-hundred pounds of steam today; we’ll know which processes used how much of what resource,” Sayles explains. Beyond conservation and savings, this system will play a vital role in the overall asset maintenance and management program by tracking performance and helping to track degrading performance of specific systems, such as air leaks in compressor banks.
Hormel also should earn Sustainable Sites credits by providing erosion and sedimentation management that exceed environmental regulations. The 39.5-acre campus will employ a low-maintenance, no-irrigation landscape. Also in this LEED category, innovations include reflective white membrane roofing and concrete paving for passive cooling and “heat island” effects. (Permeable concrete also reduces runoff.) Also, car/van-poolers will get preferred parking. The facility has locker rooms with showers available for bicycle commuters and all employees.
“You wouldn’t think that erosion control would be a big factor, but it is,” Rens says, citing LEED’s Environmental Quality criteria. Even during construction, he says “a clean job site is a safer job site,” which will be managed to minimize hazards. For example, as early phases come on-line, crews working with epoxy floors or adhesives will schedule work on the weekends.
Site design features such as erosion control can reduce dust in ductwork and keep moisture from degrading drywall at entrances. Additionally, the plant’s ductwork will be sealed and covered for cleanliness and thermal efficiency.
Build the best, the points will follow
While not all measures will make point thresholds, the company is pursuing them anyway. For example, Hormel is adding more than 200 skylights and light-dimming controls. They won’t reach a Daylight & Views credit-earning threshold, but are an example of Hormel’s belief that some practices are “the right thing to do,” Rens says.
Corporate sustainability goals from the top-down led Hormel engineers to partner with longtime design-build partners at Gleeson Constructors to put green goals on paper.
Likewise, “Thermal Comfort” points are likely outside consideration in a plant where significant process areas require a 40ºF temperature limit.
It may happen that the Green Building Council might reconsider some of LEED’s requirements, which were never designed for industrial plants. Likely, that consideration will come with innovation points. Additionally, new LEED specifications are in the works for 2009 and may add some flexibility (see sidebar, “LEED Evolves with 2009 Update”).
Pfeil is hesitant to volunteer any premium on the cost of implementing LEED but offers that “It may be 5 percent higher than conventional construction, but only 1 percent higher than standard Hormel construction.”
The same goes for payback. Hormel’s been playing the energy-savings and conservation game aggressively for so many years, Pfeil simply cannot offer a “conventional” benchmark against which to compare the new plant design.
“We are among the first to try to apply the LEED criteria to a manufacturing facility, so we are asking questions that haven’t been asked before,” Pfeil says of his in-house engineers, Gleeson engineers and even equipment vendors. “LEED has opened our eyes to ask more questions and to consider how we might do things differently,” he says.
Having found new innovation opportunities, “there really aren’t a lot of things in this plant that we wouldn't seek to do, even if we weren’t building to LEED standards,” Sayles says.
Pfeil adds, “The ultimate reward isn’t the prize but the process: build the best plant possible; use LEED to spur new ideas; act on what is possible and implement those that make both environmental and business sense. The points will follow.”
Hormel is an early adopter of the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification program. Excepting a few undisclosed certifications, there are few certified plants on record in the food and beverage industry and only one non-beverage plant: Kettle Foods’ 73,000-sq.-ft. potato chip plant in Beloit, Wis., which last September earned LEED Gold certification. The plant filters and reuses 1.65 million gallons of potato wash water; runs high-efficiency equipment; recycles cooking oil into biodiesel and generates wind energy equivalent to 56,000 bags of chips annually.
Most LEED-certified plants are on the beverage side of the industry, where temperatures, daylighting opportunities and all sorts of standards differ from a meat-or-meal production environment. But some construction and engineering cross-pollination can occur as more plants come online with LEED.
For example, PepsiCo’s 950,000-sq.ft. Gatorade facility in Wyetheville, Va., (www.gatorade.com/pdf/LEED_press_release.pdf) has reported significant productivity and efficiency in certifying for LEED-Gold with help from Haskell Co. (www.thehaskellco.com), a Jacksonville, Fla.-based AEC firm. Such improvements tend to crank out more product while using less time and energy.
More food and beverage projects are in the works, though the nature of these projects (plant, office, warehouse) has not been announced. Registrants include Full-bloom Bakery in San Francisco; Mission Foods in Panorama City, Calif.; Quaker Oats in Cedar Rapids, Iowa; and Tasty Baking in Philadelphia.
Food plant operators and others who have faced the challenge of interpreting LEED’s general guidelines for their specific use may get relief in a new version 3.0, or LEED 2009, in January. It appears to both raise the bar for future projects, and lower the barrier to entry by making it easier to translate LEED into more specific needs, like those of the food industry.
Draft proposals are still subject to change, but it appears point thresholds will rise for earning Silver, Gold and Platinum certifications. And some current point-earners, such as a 20 percent reduction in water use, will be stripped-down to prerequisite level as they become commonplace practices. In general, the whole system is aimed at better flexibility.
"We're moving away from having separate categories, so there won't be a LEED for New Construction," says Ashley Katz, spokesperson for the program. Instead, a "bookshelf" system of practices will contain practices across all LEED rating systems that can be combined to better apply to "previously under-served markets” in Green Building Council-speak. This will help LEED to cater to the "the specific project type, location and usage of the building," she adds.
From the current system of 69 points, the proposed revamp uses a 100-point scale with 10 additional "Innovation & Design credits" similar to the present system. But of those 10, four points will be reserved for regional-specific measures that will be determined by local USGBC chapters. For example, a Nevada site might earn special points for meeting a local water-use reduction goal.
For more information, visit the U.S. Green Building Council at www.usgbc.org.