COMPANIES across a wide range of industries are increasingly concerned with quantifying and improving their overall environmental footprint.
In step with that growing trend, Cargill last month announced the installation of a major solar energy system at its plant in Fresno, Cal.
Designed and implemented by Florida-based TEVA Energy, the system is the largest of its kind to be installed at a meat processing facility in the state of California and will use solar energy to preheat water that is used throughout the plant for food safety and sanitation purposes. Cargill said the Fresno facility already captures nearly 30% of its natural gas requirements from methane generated via an on-site anaerobic digester.
"The addition of solar energy to preheat boiler water complements our methane gas recovery and use, which reduces our dependence on natural gas by almost 30% and helps us move our Fresno beef processing facility closer to being truly sustainable through our incorporation of additional renewable energy sources," John Niemann, Cargill vice president and general manager of the Fresno plant, said.
TEVA worked with the company to conduct a financial and operational feasibility analysis prior to commencing the project. The solar energy system will be installed and maintained by TEVA, which also will aggregate any available economic incentives, along with the income stream generated from solar energy sold to Cargill.
Cargill's Fresno plant has 950 employees and produces approximately 400 million lb. of beef annually.
After beefing up its Ft. Morgan, Colo., processing plant with a $1.8 million investment in the latter half of 2012, Cargill said one of its top-producing beef facilities is now also one of its most energy efficient.
Cargill said the installation of high-efficiency florescent lighting and a new high-efficiency boiler has reduced natural gas consumption 10% over the past three years, cutting electricity use by 5% and increasing biogas recovery by 8%.
Plant general manager Nicole Johnson-Hoffman said by focusing on efficiency, 20% of the beef produced at Ft. Morgan is now done with renewable energy sources.
More than 30% of the fuel the facility uses comes from renewable sources, and more than 23% of the total energy used, including fuel and electricity, comes from renewable sources such as biogas. Ft. Morgan's biogas recovery system reduces the demand for natural gas equivalent to the amount consumed each year by more than 2,700 residential users, or roughly two-thirds of the homes in the city of Ft. Morgan.
Ft. Morgan was the first of Cargill's 10 North American beef plants to install a biogas recovery system, which, like the system in place at the Fresno plant, uses anaerobic digesters to break down organic matter in the plant's wastewater, creating methane. That gas is then used as fuel for the plant's boiler system.
The increased efficiency is good news for the environment as well as for the fiscal well-being of the Ft. Morgan operation.
"Our boiler efficiency increased 5-7% to approximately 85% by purchasing and installing a new unit that is heated using biogas and natural gas fuel. We also reduced our cost of electricity by nearly $300,000 annually as a result of installing new lighting," Johnson-Hoffman explained, adding that the electricity savings amounted to 3.4 million kWh annually.
Cargill's Ft. Morgan beef processing facility processes approximately 1.2 million head of cattle annually and employs 2,000 people daily in three shifts. Built in 1965, the 700,000 sq. ft. plant can handle 5,000 head per day to produce more than 4 million lb. of beef daily.