Cheerios manufacturer honored for oat hull-to-energy system

By Matt Soberg | October 05, 2011

Minnesota-based General Mills was honored with the 2011 CPG Award for Innovation and Creativity by the Associate Member Council of the Grocery Manufacturers Association for its oat hull-to-energy biomass system. The award is given annually to companies that significantly impact the industry through innovation and creativity.  

General Mills won the Division B category for converting the 80,000 tons of oat hulls that are leftover each year from the milling process into energy.

“We’ve sharpened our focus on building sustainability into every step, from seed to spoon, and this project is one of the most recent and visible successes form this journey,” said General Mills Chairman and CEO Ken Powell. “Accomplishments such as the biomass burner inspire and challenge all General Mills employees to dream big when developing creative solutions to make General Mills an even more sustainable company.”

The $3.3 million biomass-powered facility is located in Fridley, Minn., and in January started processing the oat hulls leftover from making its Cheerios breakfast cereal to create bioenergy. The plant burns the hulls to produce more than 90 percent of the steam needed for the necessary thermal energy to heat the plant and produce the oat flour used to make the cereal. 

In an effort to reduce the amount of energy it uses, General Mills made the biomass system a priority in its 2011 Corporate Social Responsibility Report. The company estimates that burning oat hulls on-site will save about $390,000 per year in reduced natural gas costs. The system has “reduced the plant’s carbon footprint by 21 percent,” according to General Mills. “Our biomass burner addressed two compelling business needs—saving money and reducing our footprint on the environment for years to come,” according to Powell.  

Excess oat hulls, not used for steam production, are utilized by the local electricity provider, Koda Energy and provide power approximately 17,000 homes annually, according to the release. The ash resulting from hull combustion is also used by local farmers as a nutrient supplement and fertilizer.