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Renovate for Sustainability

June 5, 2008
Environmental sustainability and its little brother, energy efficiency, drive many current plant renovations.

Plant renovations and upgrades are driven by many needs, from safety and sanitation to capacity upgrades and new product lines. But nothing's presently trendier than sustainability. Dig deeper, and energy conservation and savings provide the real driver.

Many experts in the field say food companies aren't going green just because it’s good for the Earth. There’s also a clear marketing advantage behind it, as well as cost savings when the focus is on reducing energy or waste. One of the sources for this story said many of the companies he’s in contact with are looking at sustainability initiatives “because Wal-Mart is requiring it.”

And why is Wal-Mart doing it? “That goes back to the marketing play,” he says. “They want people to think they care.”

There may well come a time when a company no longer gets attention for being green. But it’s hard to envision a time when energy efficiency will cease to matter. The current costs of fuel, food and materials aren’t just threatening profit margins but driving innovation.

"The thing we're seeing today different from our projects in the past is the general focus on sustainability, particularly because it incorporates energy savings as a part of it," says Vince DiPofi, senior vice president in charge of food and beverage for the architectural, engineering and construction (AEC) firm SSOE Inc., Toledo, Ohio. "Food plants are always looking at efficiency increases of all kinds."

Of all the green moves, energy savings tends to "pay off a lot faster than water and other conservation projects," says Mark Swanson, business development manager for food and consumer products for AEC firm Burns & McDonnell Engineering Co., Kansas City, Mo.

Starting points

Companies should approach an energy savings/conservation project as they do any other project — with an action plan. Determine a baseline, evaluate current practices/demand, develop an improvement/savings strategy. “See how you are going to continually improve and sustain conservation and savings,” says Larry Ware, who used this template during his decades in the meat industry. Now as business development manager with Praj Schneider Engineering Co., Omaha, Neb., he says high-horsepower motors are some of the biggest energy hogs in meat processing plants; so are refrigeration systems.

If long-term thinking guides your corporate culture, two well-known programs, LEED and Energy Star, offer comprehensive programs for eco-friendly benchmarking. The U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) certification helps new and existing plants achieve higher overall performance in an environmentally conscious manner, whether or not a capital-intensive renovation or upgrade is planned. More limited to an energy-only focus, the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Star program offers certifications and can be used for later LEED efforts. DoE offers additional resources through its Industrial Technologies/ Save Energy Now initiative.

“The main thing we emphasize is the business case for a high-performance building that does all the things you need it to do with a minimal amount of waste,” says Mike Opitz, director of LEED implementation at the Green Building Council. He says he “fully understands” that companies get marketing value out of their certifications as well as greater overall green efficiency.

“The thing LEED drives home is that this is this is not just about the marketing buzz,” adds Darryl Wernimont, partner at the Haskell Co., Jacksonville, Fla. “And people also need to understand that registering a project is only an initial step in the LEED certification process. Running efficiently requires ongoing maintenance.”

Whether or not you pursue a national certification for your plant, the best first step for even these national programs is usually a step through the doors of a local utility or energy company.

"I would start at the state energy office," says Paul Zoby, vice president with the energy management firm American Energy Assets (AEA), Denver. Most states have a “very proactive, locally focused energy office with lists of providers they've worked with. They're also an excellent source for locating available funding and incentives, because they're as motivated as the end-users to put to work the funds that they have at their disposal.”

Local utilities serve an overlapping role, and increasing numbers of them offer free classes and preliminary walk-throughs, often free of charge, as a starting point. For example, DTE Energy, a Detroit gas and electric utility, performs such tours. “We won't re-engineer your process line or boiler, but we are trained to recognize areas that might be improved upon, and help you find some areas to pay special attention to. Then we can help you find the engineering consultants you might want to use," says Bob Fegan, principal energy management consultant.

Through DTE, Fegan also is active with the Energy Solutions Center, a consortium of more than 60 U.S. utilities, municipal energy authorities and a sub-group, the Food Processing Consortium, which is helping add more specificity to these efforts.

Software’s utility

Fegan personally created something he calls Energy TechPro, which he describes as an "electronic textbook or encyclopedia of energy technologies and know-how. It trains you to do your own energy audits."

The software textbook-template started life as a side project for training utility personnel; it is now free to DTE customers and available for sale to others. While it's not a software application for plugging-in numbers and maintaining energy usage trends, this software tool is rare if not unique; it’s hard to find commercially available tools of this nature.

Finding technology to tie entire facilities into an integrated, ongoing energy program is harder still. But such a tool has surfaced that puts the maintenance department in a prime position to make a bottom-line difference.

"Studies suggest that by incorporating energy consumption into your asset management strategy, you can save 10 to 20 percent on energy costs," says John Murphy, director of global industry and product marketing for Infor (formerly Datastream), Alpharetta, Ga. The company upgraded its enterprise asset management system with "asset sustainability" features that offer new capabilities to track energy use as well as plant profitability.

Consider the tale of two chillers, identical except that one uses a filter costing $150 less. Both filters are changed every four months. After roughly 18 months, inspections show both chillers to be in top working condition when viewed from a traditional maintenance mode. Normally, the cheaper part would prevail in this context. Adding the tools to monitor energy usage, it turns out the more expensive filter is running at near-peak efficiency, while the cheaper one degrades to 60 percent by the end of its service life.

Instead of saving hundreds of dollars annually by using the cheaper filter on the equipment, the new features show that the cheaper filter has costing nearly $5,000 in higher energy costs.

Software systems are getting smarter, faster and cheaper every day throughout the plant, from heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system controls to production and maintenance and up to top management.

Applications such as this may prod more software developers to add energy-related features to products — which is fortunate for meat and poultry specialists such as Gleeson Constructors LLC, Sioux City, Iowa. “We’re seeing more demand for metering of different water and energy uses,” says President Harlan Vandezandschulp, “and have been working to tie together different systems,” he says, citing HVAC, boilers, ovens and washdown water.

Turning up (and down) the heat

Food plants generally consume three kinds of energy. Direct-fired gas, such as that used for fryers, offers chances to capture waste heat through upgrades for flue gas recovery, which can assist with indirect heating. Indirect-fired gas energy heats boilers, which is commonly the focus of upgrades to again capture exhaust gas and raise boiler feed-water temperature. Then there’s the electricity used throughout the site.

Boilers present perhaps the biggest opportunity for indirect energy improvement, because “some of the old boilers aren’t efficient enough to improve,” says Praj Schneider’s Ware. Large systems are 75-85 percent efficient, while the newer are efficient into the 90s.

“You can add economizers, extend exchange surfaces in existing boilers and generally capture heat that otherwise would be wasted out the stack,” he says. Reclaiming and reusing heat to raise feedwater temperature reduces gas consumption, can prolong feedwater temperature retention, reduce repairs and increase boiler capacity more than 5 percent. Reducing steam pressure from 125 psi to 100 psi alone can save thousands of dollars per year. Add current-generation controls and “you can reduce energy usage by 20 percent,” Ware adds.

Compressors present a major electric-savings opportunity. Simply plugging air leaks can reduce consumption 10 percent — or any multiple of that. Likewise, proper staging, sizing and maintenance of compressor banks, filters and storage tanks can prevent pressure drops, reduce peak loading (avoid too-small tanks to minimize excessive cycling) and keep those packaging line actuators clicking. Integrating compressor controls into a single system also is important for reducing inefficient cycling of multiple units during an intermittent surge, such as a clean-in-place purge. 

New-age alternatives

This past Earth Day, Frito-Lay dedicated a system of 192 parabolic-mirrored solar collectors covering five acres at the SunChips plant in Modesto, Calif.

An interest in alternative energy sources drove Frito-Lay to tap AEA for a project at the snack giant's SunChips plant in Modesto, Calif. On this past Earth Day (April 22), Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger flipped the switch on a new solar array that comprises a five-acre field of 192 parabolic-mirrored solar collectors. They rotate with the sun to focus heat on water running through glass tubes, ultimately feeding the plant's boiler system. When the second half of the field is completed this July, the solar field will generate more than 75 percent of the heat energy needed to produce SunChips.

That and other Frito-Lay energy innovation projects reportedly fueled parent PepsiCo's own industry-leading resource conservation programs, which require engineers to meet various Energy Star and LEED standards.

Trees, wood chips, tallow, oat hulls — anything that burns — is a hot topic for feeding indirect heat to all manner of equipment. Likewise, digesters
can turn effluent into methane. But while biomass sounds like a great idea, “processes fluctuate, and you don’t always have a consistent, continuous supply," says Burns & McDonnell's Swanson. "Otherwise, the investment to accommodate it is wasted."

"For a long time, people didn't consider a project if it didn't pay back in 12 or 18 months," says Mark Frey, vice president and manager of automation and electrical engineering for Cincinnati-based AEC firm Hixson. But this may be changing as energy costs soar, because "everybody we meet is interested in saving on energy any way they can, [from] lighting to solar, geothermal, cogeneration and wind energy."

Capital equipment budgeting and payback methods may be holding more companies back from potential innovations, AEA’s Zoby believes, "It's getting to the point where old school engineering, with simple paybacks, is the bare minimum of what gets considered these days."

For large capital projects or ongoing service agreements, contract arrangements can entail near-permanent turnkey services. Some come with guaranteed annual payback levels that can stretch a decade or more, and if the results aren't achieved, the energy contractor must pay the difference. SSOE's DiPofi cites a 10-year payoff solar project, after which the company got "free power" for the remaining 10-15 years of service life.

Cash flow is one benefit of these contracts, because payments can come from operational expenses instead of capital budgets.

“We’re finding that food processors people are interested in more detailed payback analysis,” says Hixson’s Frey, including calculations of alternative, optional plans. But outside consultants have no power over the most significant determining success factor because “the culture of that plant and corporation is everything. If the company’s not supporting the technology initiative, you're not going to have the results you're looking for.”

But, says LEED’s Opitz, having all the right people working as a team, “the momentum starts to build, and they start getting excited about their successes [until] the rewards they reap are beyond what anyone expected at the beginning.

“There's a reason all this excitement is building in the industry. That is, once people try it, they find that it works. It's really a win-win-win, the triple bottom line: it's good for your wallet, it's good for people’s health because you're in a healthier building, and it's good for the earth.

Energy savings is top green goal

Of all the reasons to go green, saving money apparently is the greenest for many companies. A survey across industry lines — taken last fall by SSOE, a Toledo, Ohio, architectural, engineering and construction firm — found reduced energy use as companies' No. 1 goal within their sustainability initiatives.

Of those surveyed, 64 percent of food and beverage companies had some sustainability goals in place. The survey found that size matters: While 58 percent of all publicly held firms and 64 percent of companies with more than 10,000 employees have sustainability goals, only 40 percent of private companies and 28 percent of food companies with fewer than 100 employees have sustainability goals.

More on the web

We carried a feature story on alternative energy sources in our January issue; see Consider alternative and renewable energy sources.

Detroit’s DTE Energy has a software tool

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007

The Energy Solutions Center's Food Processing Consortium

The U.S. Green Building Council’s tips on LEED certification for existing buildings

Save Energy Now, offering energy-saving services by the U.S. Dept. of Energy's Industrial Technologies Program.

Alliant Energy’s focus on improving the efficiency of chillers A search of the word "energy" on www.FoodProcessing.com will turn up 437 results, including whitepapers, products and news stories.

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