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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Be honest: Who took energy management seriously a generation ago?


Energy management: Kettle Foods' solar panels
Snack maker Kettle Foods installed a 114-kw solar electric system on the plant and headquarters roofs in September 2003. The firm has saved $8,400 annually and is reducing its CO2 emissions considerably.

If you did, you were way ahead of the curve, and we hope you and your crystal ball are still reaping the rewards and accolades you so richly deserve. More than likely, however, you were a long way from seeing the influence of energy supply and prices on your company back then.

Odds are your company is neither ignorant nor nonchalant about energy use and purchasing anymore. Five years from now you will probably look back at your company's earliest attempts to manage energy as the equivalent of football's leather helmet era.

Soaring natural gas and fuel costs over the past year have sent utility costs into the stratosphere. Conditions call for a comprehensive energy strategy. The alternative is to suffer the competitive consequences of standing pat while utility costs continue to take their toll on profits.

New era in energy management

That old memo to turn off the lights and power switches at the end of the shift was a noble gesture in its time, but sophisticated energy management today requires a broad range of knowledge, awareness, technologies and disciplines. Consider:

  • Awareness:

  • Contracts and purchasing practices:

  • Equipment and systems:

  • Outside-the-box thinking:
Emphasize that the ongoing energy challenge is an open and continual opportunity to lower costs and improve operations. Think of energy cost-reduction and conservation as a game. Companies that have embraced energy reduction and conservation purposefully have a decided edge on companies for which energy issues have receded into the general realm of operations costs. Incentives for individuals and teams that deliver energy-saving suggestions at ConAgra through its company-wide Sustainable Development program have opened up creative solutions and alternatives that would never have been tapped under business-as-usual conditions.Properly sized motors and variable frequency drives should be early targets for energy savings. Most equipment makers have tried to lower the energy requirements of their processing and packaging equipment. All assessments of capital projects today need to consider life cycle costs of equipment and make a priority of purchasing and modifying equipment to deliver maximum quality with minimal energy usage. Know and address energy-related maintenance matters immediately on the plant floor. Where and how you purchase energy can make an enormous difference in the current climate of high-priced fuel. Negotiating good fuel or energy prices and contracts that will prove sound through market fluctuations should be a key part of your game plan.
    Understanding all the ways energy can be bought, saved and wasted requires study and familiarity. But actually being able to use that knowledge is something else. Having the time, people and tools to document energy use accurately and in useful detail are essential ingredients to successful energy management. No-cost audits are great ways to get started. But once you've picked the low-hanging fruit, you may want to look to an independent party that will tap savings and conservation measures beyond the purview of your utility provider. Your program ought never to remain limited to areas covered by a single auditor.


Following are how a few noteworthy processors, large and small, are addressing the energy challenge.

Tyson: Fuels from fats

"We still are crossing our fingers to see the impact of energy prices on our business," says John Tyson, chairman of Tyson Foods, Springdale, Ark. The truth is energy had become a target at Tyson well before the last fuel price leap.

Companies with heightened energy awareness and aggressive management strategies and objectives are discovering alternative fuels in their midst.

"Over the past two or three years, we have converted a couple of lagoons for methane gas," said Tyson. "We have been exploring bio-diesel and other alternative fuels for credits within the new energy bill."

The energy bill, which rewards companies utilizing alternative fuels from certain organic materials, offers plenty of opportunities for a company like Tyson. Animal fat is a viable fuel source. And the protein giant has plenty of it.

"We're using a lot of beef tallow, using a lot of blends [of organic materials] and taking advantage of the bio-diesel credit offerings inside the new energy bill," added Tyson. "We hope we can find the best technologies to utilize [the tallow]."

Tyson has been testing B5, B10 and B20 blends of bio-diesel fuel in its truck fleet. "We are also burning beef tallow in our boilers. It's a good power source," adds Dick Bond, Tyson Foods' president and chief operating officer. "We are on an energy conservation push at all our facilities. We are making a strong, concerted effort, emphasizing conservation, burning alternative fuels, doing everything we can do reduce our energy usage."

Tyson purchases fuel on the commodities market and locks into a favorable cost position. The bulk of its fuel purchase is natural gas.

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