What Processors are Doing to Improve Energy Management

Feb. 13, 2006
Energy management suddenly has taken on grave importance. Read what Tyson, ConAgra, Publix and other processors are doing to reduce consumption and find altneratives.

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

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.

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.

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.

The company altered the system and the facility, implementing 10 major energy-saving measures. Installing a computer-control system and new 250-hp economized screw compressor that replaced the five former compressors netted 13 percent savings. Installing a fast-acting freezer door from Rite-Hite, Milwaukee, between freezer and cooler and adding variable frequency drives for the evaporator fan in the cooler contributed to a further 23 percent reduction in this area of the operation. Adding a variable frequency drive to the new compressor and VFDs to the six evaporators added a combined 39 percent saving. Lighting improvements saved an additional 12 percent.

The total savings were dramatic. Truitt Bros. garnered $70,900 in confirmed energy savings while reducing its overall energy use 59 percent – a reduction of 1,638,000 kilowatt hours per year! The company also wrought an overall improvement in conditions and operations at the plant by improving employee space comfort levels, reducing wear on compressors, fans and other parts, and creating a quieter working environment.

Snack maker goes solar

The trend toward alternative fuels has not been limited to the use of organic waste. An Oregon snack maker, for example, looked to the sun this year to curb energy costs, and, so far, the effort has been rewarding.

Kettle Foods, Salem, Ore., installed a 114-kw solar electric system on the plant and headquarters roofs in September of 2003. Use of this renewable energy source has saved the company $8,400 annually and promises CO2 emission reductions of 2,500 tons over the life of the system.

Kettle's facilities manager earlier refused an offer to buy waste heat from a neighboring printing plant, but the offer prompted company officials to look at alternative energy options. The company already had targeted energy conservation and reduction as a corporate objective. Incentives and tax credits promised an acceptable rate of return. The only major plant modification involved adding wood to the roof to support the solar panels. The system would require minimal maintenance.

The solar system will supply only 2 percent of the overall energy used at the plant and office building. But the energy is free, clean and renewable. Furthermore, the system has brought the company highly favorable publicity, which is expected to have positive marketing value and generate good will among consumers of its "all-natural" products.

Most importantly, perhaps, it will open minds to further consideration of solar and other alternative energy sources as the food industry attempts to enhance its energy consciousness.

Portland's energy trailblazers

The Northwest Food Processors Assn., based in Portland, Ore., took a major step for the entire American food industry when it entered into a contract with the Oregon Dept. of Energy to assess the energy needs and efficiency of its members. The project, which received funding from the U.S. Dept. of Energy, also charged the association with creating an energy information portal addressing industry energy needs and to "develop a transferable fact-finding and service model for other industry associations."

NWFPA's aggressive performance and success to date enhance prospects for further conservation and greater use of renewable energy resources.

Its partners include the California League of Food Processors, the energy offices of Northwest states (California, Oregon, Idaho and Washington), the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, the U.S. Dept. of Energy and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The project targets the improvement of energy and water use of food processors throughout the West. A primary aim is to reduce energy consumption and reduce emissions.

Pam Barrow, director of energy for NWFPA, tells food processors some of the easiest energy savings may be corrected by attending to fundamental maintenance issues. Among the quick-fix items, she identifies:

    • Compressed air leaks.
    • Inefficient compressed air systems.
    • Energy savings of up to 80 percent by switching to more efficient and properly sized motors.
    • Regulating motor operation with variable frequency drives (VFDs).
    • Switching to VFDs on transfer of hot and chilled water for process systems.
    • Adding VFDs to air compressors ("Energy may comprise up to 76 percent of the life cycle cost of an air compressor.").
  • Using effective software-driven energy programs to monitor energy use and purchase.


Green power can make bottom-line sense.

Businesses have good reason to explore possibilities of using energy provided by renewable energy sources such as hydropower, geothermal, solar, wind and various organic waste or by-products from your food operations. As technologies become increasingly sophisticated, alternate energy sources become more affordable. Furthermore, a growing number of incentive programs are making "green" more attractive.

As much as half of the electrical customers in the country may have electrical supply options that include green energy choices. Investigate the status of State Electric Industry Restructuring Activity through the Energy Information Administration to find your state's status regarding alternate energy supply and competition. Look also into the purchase of green energy certificates.

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