Green Plant of the Year 2017: J.R. Simplot

J.R. Simplot's Caldwell, Idaho, plant turns out billions of French fries in the most sustainable way.

By Dave Fusaro, Editor in Chief

As an agribusiness company, J.R. Simplot Co. always has had a commitment to land stewardship. The company’s mission statement is "Bringing Earth’s Resources to Life."

That commitment has carried over to its food processing business. Simplot is one of the world's largest makers of potato products, and potato processing requires a lot of water and a lot of energy – two things it would be nice to scrimp on.

Simplot’s potato processing plant in Caldwell, Idaho, recently earned a handful of accolades that reflect this commitment. It was recognized as the 2016 Industrial Project of the Year at the 31st Annual WateReuse Symposium.

On the heels of that award, the plant also achieved gold status in the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program of the U.S. Green Building Council. Last year, the plant added Energy Star certification from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Dept. of Energy and an Idaho Governor's Award for power reduction.

But the best of all: The plant is the winner of this year's Food Processing Green Plant of the Year competition.

“We’ve been in business for almost 90 years and that kind of longevity requires a commitment to long-term sustainability and innovation,” says Alan Prouty, Simplot’s vice president of sustainability and regulatory affairs. "The great thing about sustainability is that, when done right, we not only reduce our impact on our natural surroundings, but improve our business process.

"The Idaho plant in Caldwell is a prime example of this, where we’ve been able to conserve energy, reduce water use and greenhouse gases while driving efficiencies that have reduced our operating costs," he continues. "All of that will lead to long-term success.”

The Caldwell plant, which opened in 2014, was the result of the corporation's intention to replace three old facilities with a single plant that maximizes energy and water-use efficiency through a variety of innovative technologies. One of the replaced facilities was on the same land in Caldwell.

The new Caldwell plant is 400,000 sq. ft. on 200 acres. More than 500 people work at the "campus," making it one of the largest employers in Canyon County. It processes an average of 4 million lbs. of raw potatoes daily, most from the region, turning out par-fried French fries for McDonald's and other restaurants, formed products (hash browns and tater tots) and frozen shred products (more French fries, including the company's branded Sidewinder potatoes).

JR Simplot Idaho Plant Aerial article

Overall, the plant is a zero-liquid-discharge facility. It can reclaim up to 1.7 million gallons of water a day and return it for reuse in the potato production process. Membrane technology and reverse osmosis enable the effluent to meet drinking water standards. While the water is not truly potable, it's used primarily for cooling towers, makeup water and the clean-in-place system.

Remaining discharge is used for irrigation of crops right there on the site (corn, alfalfa, triticale and beets are grown) or eliminated through spray evaporation technology.

All sanitary sewage is treated onsite via solid contact chambers and lagoons. All of the waste from potato peelings, rejected potatoes and other edible sources is used as cattle feed at a Simplot-owned feed lot 60 miles away in Grandview, Idaho.

The LEED certification reflects a set of standards for the design, construction, operation and maintenance of "green" buildings in the U.S. The Idaho plant participates in an energy conservation program that helps save enough electricity to power more than 850 homes every year.

All internal lighting is LEDs. Lights outside in the parking area are solar-powered (with batteries) and use motion sensors. The parking area has premium spots for energy-efficient vehicles and bicycles. Landscaping is eco-friendly, requiring very little water and helping to cool the grounds. What water the plants do require is taken from a canal on the property, which stores rain water.

JR Simplot PotatoConveyor

New technologies that improve the plant's energy performance include improvements in refrigeration systems and pipe insulation. Compressed air systems feature a centrifugal compressor, master controller to ensure efficient compressor sequencing and an oversized receiver to reduce peak electric demand during high usage air events. A regenerative thermal oxidizer, boiler stack and fryer exhaust technologies will recover heat more efficiently. The Simplot engineering staff worked with Burns & McDonnell and design-build contractor Republic to identify energy efficiency features in the major energy-using systems.

"Idaho Power helped us find the most energy-efficient equipment throughout the plant, such as variable frequency drives and ultra-efficient motors," says John Prigge, environmental health and safety manager.

The plant in 2016 switched all 24,000 of its pallets to aluminum pallets from Aluminum Industries (www.aluminum-industries.com). Wooden pallets seem to need constant repair and, when they can no longer be fixed, they become trash. Not so with the aluminum pallets.

Potato scrap waste that doesn’t become animal feed is treated by an anaerobic digester, which creates methane gas. The gas is scrubbed and used to heat boilers, offsetting much of the natural gas needed. The digester produces more than 100,000 million BTUs of biogas a year.

“The cost savings in water and energy will more than make up for the technology costs,” plant director Erik Brandenburg says. “And the impact on the environment is significantly smaller than a traditional processing plant would be – it’s a win for everyone.”

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