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Dairy processing goes green

Transforming energy and water usage is allowing Canada’s dairy industry to save costs and be responsible corporate citizens


“It’s always in the back of our minds, how to reduce input costs and use resources more efficiently,” says Mike Crowe, long-time director of operations at the Kawartha Dairy Company in Bobcaygeon, Ont. Kawartha is a family owned business celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. The company began with milk and other basic dairy products, but expanded to ice cream production in the 1950s. It now operates eight retail stores in central Ontario, and its products are available in many communities and at most Ontario Costo outlets.

Cooling trend

For a rural, mid-sized dairy operation like Kawartha, making moves to become more sustainable isn’t always easy. “We don’t have access to natural gas and some of the other options that dairies in larger centres do,” says Crowe. “We use diesel, and can’t do a lot of cutting in terms of fuel oil for heat.”

However, Kawartha can—and is—cutting down on the cold front. “We use a lot of air cooling for compressors and condensers, and we’ve recently installed some systems that bring in cold ambient air to cool down the compressors, obviously only during the colder months of the year,” explains Crowe. “Fans drive outside air into newly built enclosures where the compressors are located, and it helps control noise as well. We’re also working with some outside partners right now, looking at ways to use outside air at our retail locations.”

About five years ago, the company did a full electricity audit, which resulted in the installation of a capacitor bank. “This helps even out the load and improves our power use efficiency,” says Crowe. “We’re doing another full examination of power usage right now.” Kawartha is also looking at ways to recapture hot water used for sanitizing equipment and shaving off rinse time.

Energy alternatives

Being located in a more urban setting, Saputo, based in St-Léonard, Que., has been able to switch almost all of its oil boiler burners with those that use natural gas. According to the company, it’s “made improvements to many cream cooling systems and whey pasteurizers, which reduced electrical and natural gas consumption. Furthermore, we have reduced energy consumption through the strategic amalgamation and consolidation of several plants and distribution centres.”

Throughout 2011, Saputo set a primary focus on gathering information from its operations to evaluate the impact of its energy and potable water usage. As part of this, the company created a sustainability supplier survey that covers environmental (water, energy, waste) factors, as well as social and economic aspects. Saputo says the survey “acts as a tool to help us measure and monitor the sustainability performance of our suppliers, and to understand our products’ lifecycle impacts.”

The company is also working to embed “carbon foot printing” into its processes to understand the impact of product life cycle. Several of its plants analyzed waste and now recycle items such as film cores, scrap steel, wire and cartons. New equipment in some facilities, such as high energy-efficient air compressors and new packaging machinery, is helping the company attain up to 25 per cent savings in energy efficiency. In addition, Saputo saves potable water through the use of recuperation systems for its Clean-In-Place processes.

Efficiency by design

In 2011, Mississauga, Ont.-based Gay Lea Co-operative Ltd. also improved its Cleaning-in-Place system at its Longlife plant in Toronto, a change that will save a whopping 2.1 million litres of water every year. “Working with Ecolab to optimize rinse lengths and frequencies, we were able to make equipment adjustments that saved both time and water,” says spokesperson Debra Selkirk.

Gay Lea was recently recognized by Toronto Hydro for the completion of a lighting retrofit and improved efficiency in air compression through installing new equipment. “Over the past three years,” adds Selkirk, “we have ramped up our focus on sustainability and taken several new initiatives. In 2009 for example, we implemented our ‘Design for Environment’ methodology, which involves integrating environmental considerations into the design and the development of new systems, processes and packaging.” That year, Gay Lea also conducted an internal energy systems evaluation to identify waste and increase efficiency using resources available through Natural Resources Canada’s Office of Energy Efficiency.

Kawartha takes the attitude of being open to giving new sustainability initiatives a go, even though some of those they’ve tried in the past didn’t work. “We’ve taken a stab at different things that haven’t panned out, but we’re willing to try again and work with different companies,” says Crowe. “We tried a pump, for example, a couple of years ago that drew a little less power and was supposed to be maintenance-free, but it didn’t work so well, so the company went back to the drawing board,” he says. “We did some trials with induction lighting in our freezing area, but they didn’t work out, so we are still with metal halide. LED might work in these areas, but we’re not sure at this point.”