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From Site Selection magazine, July 2010

Repaying Nature’s Bounty

Sugar may be king, but sustainability is today’s ultimate project sweetener.

Hormel’s new $89-million Progressive Processing LLC facility in Dubuque, Iowa, will use 25 percent less energy and water than a plant built to meet current codes and standards.
Hormel’s new $89-million Progressive Processing LLC facility in Dubuque, Iowa, will use 25 percent less energy and water than a plant built to meet current codes and standards.
Photo courtesy of Hormel Foods Corp.

f the more than 750 food-sector facility projects tracked around the world by the Conway Data New Plant Database between January 2009 and April 2010, nearly 15 percent had something to do with adult beverages or dessert. But chances are that a much higher proportion had sustainability as well as sustenance built into the project plans.

In Dubuque, Iowa, in late March, Hormel Foods Corp. unveiled its new Progressive Processing LLC facility. Not only is it the first new production facility the company has built in more than 25 years, it's targeted for LEED certification by the U.S. Green Building Council, and anticipates being among the first refrigerated food processing facilities to earn that coveted designation.

The US$89-million, 348,000-sq.-ft. (32,329-sq.-m.) facility employs 90 in the production of microwave meals, but has capacity to employ as many as 300. The plant was constructed using materials with more than 36 percent recycled content. Among its sustainable features:

  • Nonprime farmland location;
  • Preferred parking for car pools, high-efficiency vehicles and bicycles, and an adjoining bicycle/pedestrian path;
  • Process equipment water stored, filtered and used for flushing toilets, boiler blowdown cooling, and cleaning the wastewater screen;
  • Heat pumps use environmentally friendly refrigerant and extract heat energy from plant processes;
  • High-volume, low-speed fans reduce heating and cooling needs and increase comfort, and variable speed exhaust fans remove heat and air contaminants while maintaining air balance between refrigerated and non-refrigerated rooms;
  • Variable speed air compressors, large air storage tanks and flow controller ensure compressed air is produced and used with minimum energy; and air dryers utilize heat from air compressors, which reduces electric energy use.

Hormel expects to recoup the extra cost necessary to construct the environmentally friendly facility during the first two years of operation.

"Progressive Processing is a result of our continued growth, and it incorporates some of the latest technology available for manufacturing," said Jeffrey M. Ettinger, chairman of the board, president and CEO at Hormel Foods. "Our goal is to set the food industry's gold standard for harmonizing the impact of operations with the environment, and we believe we have accomplished this with Progressive Processing."

That environment includes the surrounding community: The plant will donate more than 14,000 microwave meals to the Dubuque Food Bank during its first year of operation.

An Earth-Friendly Scrapbook

Food processing contributed $4.5 billion to the state of Iowa's gross domestic product in 2007, and constitutes about 17 percent of all manufacturing in the state. But while Iowa is always among the food processing leaders, environmentally friendly measures in the industry are sprouting all over:

  • In Charlotte, N.C., in June, a Carolina Ingredients facility that recently underwent a $2-million renovation performed by Myers & Chapman earned LEED-Silver certification. The 70,000-sq.-ft. (6,503-sq.-m.) building serves as the headquarters for the business as well as its research, production, packaging and distribution facility. Carolina Ingredients is the first seasoning manufacturer in the country to use solar energy as an alternative energy source in production. The 156-unit photovoltaic solar panel array, designed and installed by Argand Energy, generates 43,590 kilowatts of electricity, and is expected to reduce the business's carbon footprint by 23 tons of carbon dioxide annually. Carolina Ingredients also installed and uses a solar thermal system to pre-heat water for its natural-gas-powered water heater. The company also expects the new facility to use 88.5 percent less wash-down water than conventional food producers.
  • Gills Onions of Oxnard, Calif., won the 2009 Governor's Environmental and Economic Leadership Award (GEELA) for its $9.5-million Advanced Energy Recovery System (AERS). The system makes Gills Onions the first fresh cut onion processing facility in the world to produce ultra-clean energy on-site from its own waste. "As the largest fresh onion processing plant in the world, Gills Onions generates 1.5 million lbs. of onion waste per week," said the state's citation. "The AERS converts 100 percent of this onion waste or 100–150 tons daily into ultra-clean, virtually emissions-free, heat, electrical energy and high-value, cattle feed." Methane gas is used to fire fuel cells that can provide the operation with up to 100 percent of its base-load electricity requirements while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The combination of energy produced, cost savings generated and grant funding achieved by the project will result in full payback in less than six years. In April, Omaha, Neb.-based HDR Engineering, Inc., won the Grand Conceptor Award from the American Council of Engineering Companies for designing the AERS.

The awarding of LEED-Gold certification in February 2009 to its 259,729-sq.-ft. (24,129-sq.-m.) distribution facility in Ridgefield, Wash., is just one of many recent environmental highlights for Connecticut-based United Natural Foods, Inc. (UNFI). The Ridgefield building is the first refrigerated distribution center to achieve that level of certification. UNFI implements sustainability practices throughout its nationwide distribution network and is pursuing LEED certification for a 675,000-sq.-ft. (62,708-sq.-m.) facility in York, Pa. UNFI also has installed major solar electric systems on the rooftops of distribution centers in Rocklin, Calif., and Dayville, Conn.

UNFI, a primary wholesale natural grocery distributor to Whole Foods, has the largest warehouse capacity of any distributor in the natural products industry with approximately 6.2 million sq. ft. (575,980 sq. m.) of space at 20 distribution centers nationwide. According to tracking by the Conway Data New Plant Database, the company had active new facility projects in 2009 in Providence, R.I.; Lancaster, Texas; and Auburn, Wash.

For its operations in Massachusetts and Connecticut, UNFI has used energy management services firm World Energy Solutions to secure 25 percent of its power needs from green sources. And in March 2010, UNFI announced plans to adopt hydrogen fuel cell technology developed by Air Products to power the 65-vehicle lift truck fleet at its 352,000-sq.-ft. (32,701-sq.-m.) distribution center in Sarasota, Fla. By doing so, it expects carbon emissions will be reduced by approximately 132 metric tons annually, an amount equivalent to the annual emissions of 35 automobiles.

In August 2009, PepsiCo's Frito-Lay Killingly, Conn., manufacturing facility celebrated the inauguration of its co-generation system, which will generate almost 100 percent of the site's electrical requirements. To maximize the system, the facility will utilize the waste heat generated to produce steam to help with the manufacturing of snack products made there. "Today's launch of the Co-Gen system is an example of sustainability and partnership in action," said Leslie Starr Keating, senior vice president, operations, Frito-Lay North America, citing the company's partnership with the State of Connecticut and the Department of Energy.

Frito-Lay also is investing $28.5 million in its 131-acre (53-hectare), 550,000-sq.-ft. (51,095-sq.-m.) campus in Beloit, Wis., which will help add up to 24 jobs to a payroll of 500. Frito-Lay announced its introduction into the state's Green Tier program, which recognizes companies that voluntarily commit to heightened environmental performance standards. During the last five years, Beloit's Frito-Lay Green Team has achieved environmental milestones that include a 99-percent landfill-free site; a 27-percent reduction in natural gas emissions; 50-percent less water consumption; and an overall reduction in greenhouse gases by 17 percent, all of which should help the facility achieve LEED certification by this year.

Story in Pictures

With the inauguration of a new co-generation system in August 2009, PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay snack food manufacturing plant in Killingly, Conn., effectively removed itself from the Northeast power grid, just days before the sixth anniversary of the Northeast Blackout.
Photo courtesy of Haws Photography and Frito-Lay
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