Eco-flavored chips: Zero trans fat, zero carbon footprint

Revolutionary companies think outside the box. Frito-Lay has begun to think outside the bag.

Its desert-based chip factory in Casa Grande, Ariz., has embarked on an ambitious three-phase plan to ultimately operate solely on renewable energy and recycled water. Called the "net-zero initiative," the plan will incorporate waste heat collection, methane digesters and parabolic solar concentrators in hopes of cutting the plant's greenhouse gas emissions by up to 75 percent by 2010 and reducing its dependence on water, electricity and gas suppliers.

The initial phase will conserve the massive quantities of water used to wash 500,000 pounds of potatoes daily. A filter system will strain and clean the wash water for reuse. Engineering feasibility studies have already begun on this phase, said corporate spokesperson Aurora Gonzalez.

Solar concentrators capturing the region's intense solar power will heat the water in the second phase to power a steam generator. Then plans call for a biomass generator that would use landfill gas, methane, wood or residual debris to eventually power the boiler system.

The Casa Grande initiatives cap two decades of Frito-Lay's energy-efficient measures that strived for significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by 2010 at its 32 U.S. plants. Frito-Lay's Energy Department pushed projects such as an air compressor management system for packaging lines; heat recovery projects that will recover heat from boilers, ovens and fryers; cogeneration; and the recycling of potato and corn solids to livestock and dairy farms. "We're well-suited to do this kind of project, given the number of years we've been at this," Gonzalez said. "That's positioned us well to take what's clearly a significant next step."

Frito-Lay's plant in Bakersfield, Calif., has been using cogeneration for 20 years, and its facility outside of Houston has been using landfill gas as a power source for several years, Gonzalez said. This was a logical next step. "Every facility has a sustainability resources conservation program," she said. "Different geographies give us different options."
Frito-Lay's parent company PepsiCo is no slouch in the environmental arena. In April 2007, Pepsi made a three-year commitment to purchase renewable energy certificates-1 billion kilowatt hours of electricity annually-to spur growth of the renewable fuels industry. Gonzalez said Frito-Lay's environmental vision is supported and driven by its parent company's philosophy.