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Chipping Away at Emissions Toward a Green Future

December 6, 2009 - 3:24pm


A few months ago, the primary electric feed to the Frito-Lay facility in Killingly, Conn., went down. It was the first real-time test for the plant’s combined heat and power “grid interconnect” system that had been installed and fully functional since March 2009. So despite the external electric grid failure, the company could keep making its popular snacks.

“We were not connected to the grid at all, but we never went offline,” recalls Bob Fitzsimmons, facilities manager at the Killingly plant. “If it hadn’t been for the CHP, it would have been eight to 12 hours with no power.”

And obviously, for a plant, that would have translated to lost productivity.

The beauty of the CHP system is that it’s designed to provide almost 100 percent of the plant’s electrical power and over 80 percent of the plant’s steam. By independently generating power, the new system helps relieve the heavily burdened electrical power grid in the Northeast region, and it also minimizes the plant’s environmental impact by reducing carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions, both harmful greenhouse gases.

The CHP power plant has advantages beyond just the obvious benefits of being able to run independent of the grid. The new system maximizes efficiency by converting waste heat into steam, a useful form of energy that Frito-Lay, a division of PepsiCo, uses to manufacture its snack products onsite.

“What works well for us in the food industry is that we have the right balance of electric and steam load,” Al Halvorsen, director of environmental sustainability at Frito-Lay North America, says. “We’re producing all the steam for the plant. If we just had a very high electric load and a small steam load, we wouldn’t be able to optimize the load on the turbine. We’re able to utilize all of the waste steam that the turbine generates.”

And using something that would normally be wasted helps companies run a leaner, more efficient business. “Killingly is about 25 percent more efficient than our standard plant,” Al says.

The project started in 2006, when the company received a grant from the state of Connecticut to help make the transition to CHP. The Energy Department also aided the project via a contract with the Energy Solutions Center to provide both financial and technical assistance.

The plant, which processes 250,000 pounds of corn and potato snack products per day, is already benefiting from the energy savings. Using the new CHP system, Frito-Lay will reduce overall CO2 emissions by about 5 percent annually.

The energy savings, independence from the grid and avoided environmental costs all supply compelling reasons for other companies to investigate their potential to tap into CHP.

And Al says other facilities within the corporation want to do just that.

“I already have other plants calling me and saying they really want to install a CHP,” he says.