'Near net-zero' plant sustains profits, productivity
Frito-Lay, inspired by the idea of taking one of their plants off the energy grid, turned their Casa Grande, Ariz. manufacturing plant into a 'near net-zero' facility, running on renewable resources.
In the search for greater energy independence, Frito-Lay was like many manufacturers. It had a number of projects at plants and distribution centers that focused on various aspects of reducing energy consumption. There was a renewable energy program at distribution centers in California, a photovoltaic system in Bakersfield, Calif., and a plant in Texas running on landfill gas.
Al Halvorsen recalls the examination of those success stories at Frito-Lay over the last decade. “Out of that discussion was the idea: If we took all of that technology, could we take a plant off the grid?” he said. That led Frito-Lay toward creating a single test-case facility that would combine the best practices within Frito-Lay and its parent company PepsiCo, and emerging strategies for energy and waste reduction around the world.
Frito-Lay took its Casa Grande, Ariz. snack chip manufacturing plant and turned it into a test lab for sustainability. The effort has made Casa Grande a “near net-zero” facility, running on renewable resources with virtually no landfill waste.
Halvorsen, Frito-Lay’s senior director of environmental sustainability, said the company’s commitment to sustainable manufacturing began a dozen years ago, and the fuel for that effort was managing costs in its plants.
“When we first looked into it in 1999, sustainability was not an often-used word,” Halvorsen said. “We were focused on ‘resource preservation’.”
The company’s conservation goals were aggressive: reducing water use by 50%, natural gas use by 30%, and electricity by 25%. Savings now total about $80 million annually.
"As a company that relies on key natural resources like water and fuel, Frito-Lay has developed strategies to ensure our business remains sustainable, even if there are constraints on those resources," said Al Carey, past CEO and president, Frito-Lay North America. "Frito-Lay and its parent, PepsiCo, are committed to finding innovative solutions that are right for the business and right for the environment. The 'near net-zero' project is an industry-leading example of how the two successfully intersect."
At Casa Grande, a city almost midway between Phoenix and Tucson on I-10, all of those natural resources are valued. It also emerged as a place where other renewable resources—including solar and wind—were in plentiful supply.
Frito-Lay worked with the National Renewable Energy Lab to formulate a strategy that would include biomass, solar, wind, and water reduction. Then Frito-Lay looked at which of its plants has the land and availability to handle such a project. Halvorsen also worked with local resources, including the School of Sustainability at his alma mater, Arizona State University.
“Frito-Lay set out to create an environmental learning lab in our Casa Grande plant that would try to make the plant 'near net-zero’,” said Halvorsen. “Our approach to significantly reduce the use of natural resources and the environmental impact of a manufacturing site has been cutting edge.”
Everything under the sun
Frito-Lay’s learning lab approach to energy management used every kind of renewable energy source available, and each has its own success stories. They include:
Water reduction: The water recovery and reuse system uses membrane bio reactor and low-pressure reverse osmosis technologies to recycle from 50% to 75% of water. The recycled water meets EPA primary and secondary drinking water standards.
Electricity reduction: There are five photovoltaic systems installed on Casa Grande’s 200 acres. Together they produce 10 million kWh of electricity annually. Two single-axis tracking PV systems alone have more than 18,000 solar panels.
Natural gas reduction: A new 60,000 lbs/hr biomass boiler uses wood and agricultural waste as its combustion energy source. The boiler cuts natural gas use by 80% and produce all the steam the plant needs for operation.
Zero landfill: As of 2010, the Casa Grande facility sends less than 1% of its overall waste to landfill through extensive recycling and using food waste for cattle feed.
LEED: The Casa Grande facility became the first existing food manufacturing site to achieve LEED Existing Building Gold Certification from the U.S. Green Building Council in 2009.
The staff members at Casa Grande, Halvorsen said, are essentially running two plants—one that makes snack chips and one that makes energy. “For our employees, it’s transparent. They can continue their focus on making chips.”
The continuing emphasis on net-zero is now looking at ways to further reduce the amount of materials being sent to landfills, and ways to help the company’s fleet of 40 drivers to deliver product more efficiently through the most fuel-efficient way possible. That includes not just the vehicles themselves, but monitoring such things as idling time and installing GPS systems on trucks to deliver product by the most direct route.
The important lessons from Casa Grande are being shared throughout the Frito-Lay and PepsiCo systems. The goal is to move more of the company’s manufacturing to sustainable energy and take more out of the waste stream. Halvorsen noted that’s good for the environment, and aligned with PepsiCo’s “Performance with Purpose” corporate initiative. “This didn’t begin with the idea that we were going to build a net-zero plant,” he said. “Our concentration was on driving productivity, and the efforts then freed up dollars.
“The success of the program is bigger than any piece of technology,” he said. “It’s the interface of technology and people that makes sure they’re both operating at their most efficient. It’s what we call ‘seed to shelf’.”
Vavra is content manager for Plant Engineering magazine.