Consider alternative and renewable energy sources

Jan. 16, 2008
Solar and wind power, biogas and biodiesel may solve your company’s energy problems as well as its green initiatives.

With global energy markets in turmoil, food manufacturers have experienced as much as a 50 percent rise in energy costs — significantly impacting the total cost to produce their final product.

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Prices for traditional energy sources such as natural gas have skyrocketed in recent years, with additional increases expected. The rising prices will in turn increase production costs related to many processes, particularly those using ovens. Steam and compressed air costs are impacted by higher electricity and natural gas prices.
To combat rising energy expenses — and as an act of good corporate citizenship — food manufacturers are taking unprecedented steps to use renewable and alternative energy sources in their operations. Not only does this provide them with some control over expenses, it also gives them a measure of credibility with environmental movements, a critical advantage in the highly competitive food business.

“Energy is a top priority in food processing because of the cost, but also due to the green movement, begun in the U.S. and Europe, which is sweeping the food industry like a tsunami,” says Sylva Cuperlier, a vice president and director of worldwide corporate social responsibility at Dole Food Co. (, Westlake Village, Calif.

According to Cuperlier, there are numerous reasons why companies such as Dole have turned their focus toward the use of alternative and renewable energy sources. “Being a green company is part of our core values,” says Cuperlier, “but there are also new regulations that require us to implement measures to be more environmentally friendly. Another component is the demand from customers who expect us to be responsible in the use of energy in our operations.”

Frito-Lay, Kettle chip in

Kettle Foods ( has made a name for itself by committing to a comprehensive, company-wide sustainable energy program. Kettle Foods headquarters in Salem, Ore., is home to one of the largest commercial solar power arrays in the Pacific Northwest. Its 616 solar panels generate 120,000 kWh of electricity — enough to make 250,000 bags of potato chips, according to Jim Green, Kettle Food’s ambassador.

Installed in 2003 with the help of Energy Trust of Oregon and Portland General Electric, the solar arrays reduce Kettle Foods’ annual CO2 emissions by 60 tons. The remaining power consumed by Kettle but not produced by solar power is 100 percent wind power. Renewable Energy Credits are purchased through Renewable Energy Choices of Boulder, Colo., to offset 100 percent of electricity in all Kettle Foods locations in the U.S.

“Kettle was founded on the principles of supporting such things as organic agriculture, so really the company has been thinking outside the box from the beginning on how we manufacture and distribute food,” says Green. “The use of alternative energy is something we think about. In Oregon, there is a great deal of incentive — tax incentives and so forth, both at the federal and state levels — to convert to and use alternative energy. We took advantage of those incentives in 2003 by putting together the large photovoltaic solar cell at our headquarters. This type of practice is in the DNA of our company.”

Solar power also is being used by Frito-Lay, a division of PepsiCo, which recently installed a solar electric power system on the roof of its Arizona Service Center, the company's largest U.S. distribution center. The 201-kilowatt system consists of more than 1,000 Kyocera high-output 200-watt photovoltaic (PV) modules, making it the largest business-owned PV system in Arizona. PV is a solar power technology that uses solar cells or solar photovoltaic arrays to convert light from the sun directly into electricity.

“As different types of renewable energy become available to us — both from a technical point of view and a business point of view — we implement them,” says Dave Haft, group vice president of sustainability and productivity at Frito-Lay ( “The photovoltaic system in Arizona, which by the way is the largest privately owned system in the state of Arizona, is the seventh Frito-Lay distribution center to have a photovoltaic electrical generating system.”

Frito-Lay’s use of solar power will produce roughly 350,000 kilowatt hours of electricity annually and will supply power directly to Frito-Lay’s electrical loads to meet a portion of the facility’s daytime energy needs.

The installation was facilitated in part by the Arizona utility APS and its Solar Partners Incentive Program, which provides financial incentives to customers who add PV solar systems or solar water heaters to their homes or businesses.

The system was designed and installed by American Solar Electric, a Scottsdale, Ariz., firm specializing in photovoltaic power systems. The PV system was engineered to produce year-round energy production through elevated, angled panels above the rooftop deck.

Biofuels are a gas

The use of biodiesel, a renewable fuel resource that greatly reduces tailpipe pollution compared to regular diesel, as well as other types of biofuels are among the most popular alternative energy sources being used in the food processing industry. Kettle also is committed to the use of biodiesel. According to Green, all of the company’s waste cooking oil is processed into biodiesel by SeQuential Pacific Biofuels near Kettle’s headquarters in Salem. Kettle Foods operates three company cars plus a local delivery truck on biodiesel, resulting in an annual reduction of eight tons of CO2 emissions.

Tyson Foods also uses biodiesel. The food giant is using the alternative fuel to power its truck fleet in Scanton, Ark. “We have been running biodiesel for a long time in our fleet, so we have a lot of experience with it,” says Bob Ames, senior director of commercialization for Tyson Renewable Energy (

“Last year we surveyed our drivers, and they simply liked biodiesel better. They found it pulled well going up hills, and it has other positive performance characteristics.”
Tyson is exploring ways to use by-products of its meat and poultry production processes to produce alterative fuels. “We’ve got an enormous quantity of feedstock,” says Ames. “We slaughter roughly 25 percent of the nation’s beef cattle and poultry, slightly less on pork. Through these operations we have access to a lot of animal fat — roughly 300 million gallons of animal fat feed stock, which is pretty significant.” 

To tap this enormous well of animal fat, Tyson established a cross-functional team, led by Tyson Corporate Strategy and Development, to research opportunities in this area. In 2006, this work resulted in the creation of a new business unit called Tyson Renewable Energy, which is moving forward on initiatives to produce biofuels.

The charter of this new division is consistent with the company’s “value-up strategy,” which is focused on increasing margins on by-products, and it also supports Tyson’s core value of environmental stewardship. Since using these by-products as fuel replaces the use of hydrocarbons, net carbon emissions will decrease, which is good for the environment.

Ames believes the company’s efforts will contribute to the nation’s energy security and will provide an opportunity for U.S. animal agriculture — including the nation's ranchers and farmers — to participate in the renewable energy business.

A strategic alliance between ConocoPhillips and Tyson is a part of Tyson Renewable Energy. In 2007, the two companies announced plans to use beef, pork and poultry by-product fat to create renewable diesel fuel, which will help supplement the traditional petroleum-based diesel fuel supply. Each company has begun making capital improvements to its own facilities so Tyson can provide the right kind of feedstock and ConocoPhillips can process it into a new form of diesel fuel.

Tyson also entered a partnership  with Syntroleum Corp. Dynamic Fuels, the resulting joint venture, has chosen Geismar, La., as the site for a $126 million refinery for producing renewable diesel and jet fuels using Syntroleum’s proprietary technology. It should be on line in 2010.

Tyson also uses renewable energy within its own plants. For instance, Tyson is capturing the biogas produced at several company wastewater treatment facilities and converting it into a fuel used to operate hot water boilers in meat processing plants.
Frito-Lay uses a similar system to generate gas from a landfill at its plant in Rosenberg, Texas. “We have a pipeline that runs from the landfill to the plant,” says Haft, “and we use the gas generated from the landfill — from the digestion or decay of waste — to generate methane, which in turn we use to operate our boiler. The steam makes our potato chips.”

Minneapolis-based Cargill Inc. ( has similar landfill methane projects — using gas from landfills — in place at its plants in Bloomington, Ill., Fargo, N.D., and Fayetteville, N.C.

Cargill has other alternative energy projects in the works, including plans to build and operate an anaerobic digester on Bettencourt Dairy Farm’s new 10,000-cow farm. The digester, expected to be completed by the second quarter of 2008, will convert cow effluent into 2.4 megawatts of power per year to be sold back into the local power grid. Co-products from the process will be made into organic fertilizer and digested solids for animal bedding.

The technology, which is being funded by Cargill’s Environmental Finance group, will generate carbon credits from reduced methane emissions into the atmosphere. The credits can be sold on global climate exchanges.

“We are excited to be working with Cargill to develop this innovative means of manure management,” says Rick Onaindia, Bettencourt’s chief financial officer “The digester will substantially reduce odors while creating a renewable source of electricity and reducing our overall operating costs.”

So think of it all as two birds with one stone. Self-generated energy can reduce your dependence on your power suppliers and maybe our collective dependence on foreign oil and fossil fuels. Making your company a “green” hero in the process is a great bonus.

Breaking eggs to make hydrogen fuel

The U.S. produced nearly 91 billion eggs in 2006, according to the USDA. That represents about 455,000 tons of eggshell per year that could potentially be used in hydrogen production. Energy experts believe hydrogen may become an important alternative energy source in the future, most notably in the form of fuel cells.

Engineers at Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, have found a way to use discarded chicken eggshells to help produce this alternative energy. The patented process uses eggshells to soak up carbon dioxide from a reaction that produces hydrogen fuel. It also includes a unique method for peeling the collagen-containing membrane from the inside of the shells so the collagen can be used commercially.

L.S. Fan, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Ohio State, and Mahesh Iyer, a former OSU doctoral student, made the discovery. “The key to making pure hydrogen is separating out the carbon dioxide,” says Fan. “In order to do it very economically, we needed a new way of thinking, a new process scheme.”

Eggshells are mostly calcium carbonate, which captures 78 percent of carbon dioxide by weight. That makes it the most effective carbon dioxide absorber ever tested.

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