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The Eco-Friendly, Net Zero Energy Potato Chip
Emily Gertz, 16 Nov 07

I'm as happy as the next junk food lover that Lays is converting its chip factory to green standards, but did it really rate a front page placement on yesterday's local edition of The New York Times?

Well, maybe, if it's a harbinger of sweeping changes in the food processing industry. As Andrew Martin reports,

CASA GRANDE, Ariz. — At Frito-Lay’s factory here, more than 500,000 pounds of potatoes arrive every day from New Mexico to be washed, sliced, fried, seasoned and portioned into bags of Lay’s and Ruffles chips. The process devours enormous amounts of energy, and creates vast amounts of wastewater, starch and potato peelings. Skip to next paragraph Jeff Topping for The New York Times

The use of vacuum hoses at an Arizona plant reduces the amount of heat needed to cook potato chips.

Now, Frito-Lay is embarking on an ambitious plan to change the way this factory operates, and in the process, create a new type of snack: the environmentally benign chip.

Its goal is to take the Casa Grande plant off the power grid, or nearly so, and run it almost entirely on renewable fuels and recycled water. Net zero, as the concept is called, has the backing of the highest levels of corporate executives at PepsiCo, the parent company of Frito-Lay.

One government engineer tells Martin that where past pleading to green up operations got "blank stares," now his phone is ringing off the hook.

According to the article, Frito Lay plans many changes at the Casa Grande plant, which was built in 1984, including:

  • Installing high-tech filters to recycle most of the water used to rinse and wash potatoes, as well as the corn used to make other snacky goods
  • Burning the leftover sludge and harvest the resulting methane gas to run the plant’s boiler
  • Building at least 50 acres of solar concentrators behind the plant to generate solar power
  • Building a biomass generator to likely burn ag wastes for additional fuel
The retrofit of the Casa Grande factory, scheduled to be completed by 2010, would reduce electricity and water consumption by 90 percent and its natural gas use by 80 percent. Greenhouse gas emissions would be cut by 50 percent to 75 percent, the company said.

Frito-Lay hopes the project will help the company save money on energy costs, particularly as oil prices approach $100 a barrel. What works in Casa Grande, one of 37 plants it operates in the United States and Canada, would then be replicated at other sites where possible.

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