Sustainability programs and energy-efficiency initiatives are on the to-do list of food processing companies across the US. Converting that to-do list to actual projects, however, is a process that often faces significant technical and economic barriers.
Where do you find information and funding to support feasibility assessments and technology selection? How do you justify the cost of implementing industrialscale alternative energy projects when capital budgets for core business units are already constrained? Where can you find support to assess, develop and implement these projects?
The answers to these questions lie in public-private partnerships under government programs designed to advance new energy technology development and implementation in the areas of renewable energy, energy efficiency and fuel flexibility. Sustainability and energyefficiency project incentives in the form of research support, tax credits and direct project grants are offered through programs at the federal, state and local levels. The US Department of Energy (DOE), specifically the Industrial Technologies Program (ITP) in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, is developing partnerships within the food industry to promote and implement these projects.
ITP has targeted multiple industrial sectors, including the food processing industry, with alternative energy technology research and development support. Often, this support provides technical and financial assistance to projects that would otherwise not be feasible. ITP works closely with its industrial partners to elevate energy efficiency as a priority within these companies. In collaboration with industry, states, professional associations, the financial community and other stakeholders, ITP helps plants assess and access the latest technologies and energy-management practices and promotes their implementation throughout the manufacturing supply chain.
To date, ITP and its industrial partners have launched 220 energyefficient technologies, avoiding millions of tons of carbon emissions and saving 5 quadrillion Btu.
POINT OF OPPORTUNITY.
In an era of ever-increasing energy costs, concern about greenhouse gases and the need to upgrade domestic energy security, government and industry are working together to better manage energy consumption and costs. Through ITP’s initiatives, DOE is actively seeking to support projects that will demonstrate the benefits of renewable and efficient energy technologies.
Food industry companies looking to upgrade and/ or expand their plant infrastructure should consider participation in these programs to identify alternative energy technologies and best practices that could lower their energy intensity, fuel consumption and overall plant lifecycle costs while also contributing to a cleaner environment.
Whether a company is considering a single-project implementation effort or a wider sustainability program, multiple alternative energy technology options and best practices may be considered:
• Biomass energy systems — Biofuel , biodiesel, ethanol, landfill gas, municipal solid waste, agricultural waste, geothermal sources and food process waste are all potential sources of alternative fuels. In addition to onsite, biomass-fueled energy systems, alternative-fuel fleet vehicles offer another means to reduce fossil fuel consumption.
• Combined heat and power (CHP) systems — Also known as cogeneration, CHP provides onsite generation of electrical or mechanical power and uses waste heat recovery for heating, cooling and dehumidification. CHP systems are highefficiency power plants that can simultaneously serve a facility’s electrical and process thermal loads from a single fuel source. Additionally, because they can be operated independently from the commercial electrical grid, CHP systems allow a facility to continue business operations uninterrupted during a grid outage.
• Rooftop solar arrays — Thin-film solar panels offer the opportunity to use otherwise wasted space on the rooftops of production and warehouse facilities to produce onsite electrical energy.
• Small-scale wind systems — Not to be confused with the large wind farms, small building- or ground-mounted wind turbines can offset portions of a facility’s electricity consumption.
• Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) — Implementation of proven alternative energy technology as part of a new facility design or existing facility renovation can contribute to the EA-1 category of LEED credits. Additional innovation credits may also be earned by incorporating new or first-generation alternative energy technology, providing additional points toward LEED certification.
• Energy audits — Energy audits provide a facility with a snapshot of its baseline energy consumption and identify conservation measures that can be implemented to reduce consumption. Audits can be performed as part of an energy-savings performance contract, where the benefit of energy cost savings are used to pay the capital cost of implementing energy-saving projects.
ITP offers a no-cost energy assessment through its Save Energy Now program. These assessments, performed by a DOE energy expert, help companies identify key opportunities for savings by focusing on energy-intensive systems such as process heating, steam, pumps, fans and compressed air.
ITP can support feasibility analysis and project implementation efforts for these types of projects for food industry facilities. In some cases, federal funding can provide 100% of an energy audit cost, up to 80% of the total cost of a specific project’s feasibility analysis effort and up to 50% of a project’s implementation cost.
As the food industry moves toward energy efficiency and sustainability solutions, partnerships with government programs such as ITP, experienced vendors, technical organizations and consultants can strengthen your project team, reduce project implementation costs and mitigate technology risk.
Because food manufacturing plants are energyintensive facilities, DOE has a particular interest in seeing this industry embrace energy efficiency and renewable technologies. Public-private partnerships to develop these types of projects in this sector will contribute directly to enhanced US industrial productivity and success in the global marketplace.
Rod Schwass is an associate with Burns & McDonnell, an international engineering, architecture, construction, environmental and consulting firm based in Kansas City, MO. Mark Swanson leads business development for the food and consumer products department at Burns & McDonnell. For more information, visit www.burnsmcd.com.