Potatoes help McCains get off the grid

A large Victorian food processor has cut its dependence on coal and gas by 40 percent by converting potato waste into electricity and investing in solar energy.

McCain Foods’ Ballarat plant has built a cogeneration biodigester on site, which creates an energy-rich gas by placing organic materials in an airtight container to break down.

CO2 reduction technical project manager, Scott White, said it was an Australian innovation and the most efficient way to maximize CO2 reduction.

“This is such an exciting project,” he said.

“We had a waste stream from our food production process that had a low value-added market, so we looked at how we could use it more economically.

“We take all the waste that comes out of our factory and put it through an anaerobic digester, which creates green biogas (methane).”

Biodigesters work like a stomach to convert food waste into energy.ABC Rural: Jane McNaughton

potato power

Mr White said using 23,000 tons of unsaleable food to create energy saved about 1,600 garbage trucks full of waste per year and cut CO2 emissions by 15,100 tons.

“All the solid waste is watered down and pushed into a mill, creating almost a papier-mâché substance, which is pumped into a pre-acidification tank.

“That tank is like a cow’s first stomach and pre-digests the food waste, and then it’s pumped into the anaerobic digester where there are piles of healthy insects eating the solid matter.

a close-up photo of hands holding potatoes just dug out of the ground
Potato and other food waste at McCain Foods’ processing plant in Ballarat is converted into energy.ABC Rural: Jane McNaughton

“The insects then produce methane from that, which is collected and cleaned so that it can be used.”

The process of making biogas also generates heat, Mr. White says, and the hot air is used to boil water needed for the production process, reducing the plant’s reliance on natural gas.

“We clean and scrub the biogas for combustion in CHP turbines, which run at 70,000 revolutions per minute (RPM) and produce 22,000 volts of electricity for consumption by the plant,” he said.

a biodigester
The CHP system will reduce CO2 emissions by 15,100 tons per year and save 23,000 tons of waste.ABC Rural: Jane McNaughton

Get off the network

McCain Foods’ investment in renewable energy has reduced factories’ electricity consumption by more than 30 percent and natural gas use by 16 percent.

Mr White said the environmental sustainability of the project was important, and with: energy prices are rising due to the war in Ukraine and cold weather As consumer demand grew, there were clear financial benefits to generating energy on site.

“We need to look at our best bang for the buck for investments to reduce CO2.” he said.

“This not only results in significant cost savings, but also significant CO2 savings.

A man standing in front of a McCain sign
Scott White says the technology was an Australian innovation and the most efficient way to maximize CO2 reduction.ABC Rural: Jane McNaughton

The Ballarat plant will begin construction of a solar parking lot early next year, which will expand the manufacturer’s solar capacity.

“Combined with the existing solar farm on the property, it is expected to further reduce emissions by more than 12,100 tons and produce electricity equivalent to the amount used by 4,500 homes,” said Mr White.

“The panels in the parking lot will be two sided, so they will generate electricity not only from the sun as it shines down, but also from the reflected sunlight from the ground.

solar farm
McCain’s food factory in Ballarat has an operational solar farm.Supplied: McCain Foods

“Solar is an important investment. Although Ballarat is known for its cold weather, we actually have quite high solar radiation, so solar energy is piling up.

“But the sun doesn’t shine 24/7 and that’s the beauty of our CHP system, it runs day and night.”

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