Food Processing Awards Campbell's Soup Napoleon, Ohio 2014 Green Plant of the Year

Sept. 8, 2014
The thermal processing plant is ground zero in the company’s sustainability efforts, boasting a diversified energy portfolio that’s moving it off the grid.

In nominations and the final vote, we listed several points we were looking for in a Green Plant of the Year:

  • Is it energy efficient?
  • Does it use innovative or alternative sources of energy?
  • It is minimally polluting?
  • Does it minimize water use?
  • Were green building materials and practices used in its construction?
  • Is the design innovative?
  • Is it economically sustainable?

By the way, just after our voting closed, OSI Henan Foods’ plant – OSI’s largest food processing facility globally – gained Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification, making it the first LEED-certified protein plant in China and one of only a few meat processing plants in the world to obtain this certification.

For the fifth year, we asked you to help us honor the best recent examples of green/sustainable plants. Back in June, we whittled a dozen or so nominations to two: Campbell Soup Co.’s Napoleon, Ohio, plant and OSI Henan Foods’s facility in Xihua, Henan Province, China.

We asked them for 200-word essays to help familiarize you with their efforts. Then we put both essays and a poll on our web site during July, and 3,043 of you picked the winner: Campbell Soup-Napoleon, Ohio.

That plant joins our previous winners: Anheuser-Busch’s Fairfield, Calif., brewery (2013); Hormel’s Dubuque, Iowa, plant (2012), ConAgra Foods’ Lamb Weston sweet potato facility in Delhi, La. (2011), and the 2010 honoree, Kettle Foods’ Beloit, Wis., plant.

This year, the answer is Napoleon, Ohio, home of Campbell Soup Co.’s workhorse thermal processing plant and showcase of sustainable manufacturing.

Don’t take our word that it’s the greenest of the green; that’s the popular consensus of 1,949 visitors to who expressed their opinions under the democratic principle of one IP address, one vote.

Waste Meets Its Waterloo

Camden, N.J.-based Campbell took its first steps toward sustainable manufacturing in August 2008, when it formalized an environmental, social and governance policy that established hard goals for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, as well as lower water and energy inputs and higher rates for solid-waste recycling. Attacking waste by those metrics was a new approach, and because the goals were ambitious, Campbell hedged its bets by making 2020 the target date for attaining them.

Almost a fifth of company-wide electricity consumption occurs at Napoleon, making it ground zero for green initiatives. A sprawling, 2.4 million-sq.-ft. facility on a 949-acre parcel that hugs the Maumee River, Napoleon is a thermal processing powerhouse, cranking out 107 million cases of soups, juices, beverages and sauces last year. Making rate is the mindset in manufacturing, and asking staffers to be mindful of waste can be a wrenching change.

Keeping production moving will always be the top priority in food processing, but improving equipment reliability is helping lower energy costs for redundant systems at the Napoleon facility.

“One of the biggest challenges we face is cultural,” observes Randy Puckett, the plant’s manager of services and utilities. Uninterrupted flow of cans into and out of retorts is a priority, and supervisors routinely turned on redundant equipment to back up production lines in the event of a breakdown. A major focus on equipment reliability is helping change supervisors’ mindsets about the need for standby equipment. That type of initiative has helped reduce energy inputs per unit of production 20-25 percent.

Staff buy-in to sustainability has gotten a boost from two major renewable energy projects: a 24,000-panel solar array on 60 acres adjacent to the plant, and a biogas system. Together, those capital projects are expected to fill 40 percent of Napoleon’s electric demand. They also are visible symbols of the corporate commitment.

“The biggest request from the people in the plant is they want to see and touch the solar array, the (anaerobic) digester,” says Puckett. “They talk about it, and it’s getting them on board with recycling and waste-separation. It’s drawing a lot of interest from the staff and the people in the community.”

None of the capital for solar and biogas came from Campbell. Thanks to a renewable energy credit created in 2008 by the state of Ohio, the economics of those projects resulted in 100 percent third-party funding. Besides making room for the seven-acre biogas installation and the solar array, Campbell committed to purchasing all of the energy produced by the systems.

“We spent zero dollars and locked in a price for 20 years at a rate that is the equivalent to or less than we were paying,” says Robert Shober, vice president-infrastructure engineering and environmental services. Based on Dept. of Energy projections, the solar array will reduce Napoleon’s electricity costs $4 million and eliminate 250,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas over the purchase agreement’s 20-year period, according to BNB Renewable Energy Holdings, which brokered the solar project.

The 9.8 MW solar array generated 14,000 MWh last year, about 15 percent of the plant's electric consumption. That translates to 16.2 percent of capacity, assuming the sun never sets and every day is sunny. The 2.8 MW biodigester, by contrast, has 24/7 uptime potential, and the engine that drives its electric generator operates at 40 percent efficiency. The original expectation was that the two systems would supply a third of the facility’s electricity; now, engineers anticipate meeting 40 percent of demand with renewables, reaching the corporate goal six years early.

Waste not

Solid waste disposal is an added benefit of the anaerobic digester that produces the methane that drives the electric generator. Out-of-spec products and food waste that used to be landfilled now have an alternate use. Instead of paying tipping fees, Napoleon derives energy.

About 60 percent of the facility’s waste was recycled in the benchmark year of 2008, with a goal of 95 percent by 2020. In the fiscal year ending July 31, the ratio had climbed to 93.8 percent, according to Puckett. A source separation program that commenced in recent months should help exceed the target ratio “in the next few months, and definitely by the end of the year,” he adds. Of 148,953 tons of generated solid waste, 139,000 tons were recycled and 9,700 tons went to landfill.

Water use has declined by a fifth in the last six years and now stands at 15 million gallons a day. None of it is drawn from municipal supplies. Instead, the source is the Maumee River. The intake is three miles upstream and is fed to an on-site filtration and purification infrastructure comparable to a system sized to serve a city of 150,000, 16 times the size of the municipality across the river, according to Shober. About one-tenth goes into product, with the balance cooling equipment and product, conveying carrots and potatoes in flumes and serving other plant needs before being treated and discharged back into the Maumee.

“It’s brown and murky when we take it out,” says Shober. “It’s crystal clear when we put it back.”

Northwest Ohio is a high-wind vector, and when engineering began evaluating renewable energy options, six wind turbines were considered. Permitting issues and concerns from the nearby Henry County airport scuttled those plans and led to the solar projects. “Maybe someday down the road we’ll have a wind farm at Napoleon,” Shober says. Wind data continues to be collected from a tower on the site.

Wind turbines and solar arrays make a dramatic statement, but the driving force for Campbell is a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Reductions in energy inputs per unit of production and selective replacement of older technology are big parts of the solution. Coal- and oil-fired boilers were retired, T-5 and T-8 fluorescent light fixtures replaced metal halide several years ago, and high-efficiency motors are the rule.

Variable frequency drives have become the norm, beginning with 100 hp motors used for water intake and other jobs, all the way down to 1 hp motors “It really helps in controlling the lines and reducing maintenance,” Puckett notes. Fewer than one in 10 motors lack VFDs, a fact that “not only improves energy efficiency, it improves our plant reliability.”

There are 50 shades of green. Napoleon is well past mint and closing in on kelly. Continuous improvement will be needed to reach forest green, and plant leaders aren’t easing up just because corporate goals are being met. More than 1,000 workers come through Napoleon’s gate each day, and the greenbacks saved by green initiatives will help sustain the viability of their jobs, the nearby community and the corporate parent.

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