How PepsiCo is turning waste into renewable energy: ‘A case study in best practice’
This April, a new biodigester will come online to transform organic waste into biogas at PepsiCo’s snack production plant in Carregado, Portugal. The biodigester will use the sludge produced at the facility’s treatment plant and potato peelings, as well as other food waste that is unfit for consumption. This waste is pre-treated and converted into a ‘clean organic compound’ that is then transformed into biogas through a biological process.
Anaerobic digestion takes waste organic material and breaks it down into gaseous products or ‘biogas’ through the action of a group of specific organic bacteria in the absence of oxygen. The biogas will be a direct substitute for natural gas and will be pre-treated in a purification plant that converts the biogas into biomethane.
The project, which saw a total investment of €7.5m from PepsiCo, will result in an estimated 30% reduction in carbon emissions at the facility, the company estimates. "The new biodigester will have the capacity to convert 21,900 tons of organic waste per year into 4,818,000 Nm3 of biomethane per year, which equals a 30% reduction in carbon emissions during the production process,” explained Nelson Sousa, Plant Manager for PepsiCo in Portugal.
The biogas will be used in place of natural gas as fuel in the various stages of production, as well as for sanitizing the production lines and heating the sanitary waters in the shower rooms and cafeteria. “The plant has considered a conservative scenario, in which 30% of plant gas needs will be covered by the biogas produced by the new biodigester. It may be higher (up to 40%) depending on waste availability,” Sousa told FoodNavigator.
Investing in efficient, sustainable energy
The new initiative builds on existing sustainability investments made at the Carregado facility. In 2012, the Carregado plant introduced a biogas production system that has yielded a 50% reduction in electricity consumption at its wastewater treatment plant. It also reuses heat from the ovens used in the production of Doritos by recovering ‘wasted’ energy from the chimney and the production of steam, facilitating a reduction in gas consumption at the plant of around 5%.
Where the site does use externally sourced electricity, the focus is on procuring renewables. The company says it is already using electricity from ‘sustainable sources’ in all its facilities in Portugal and has also announced a ‘major change’ with the signing of a power purchase agreement (PPA) starting January 1, 2023. “With this partnership, PepsiCo will improve the quality and traceability of this energy and ensure a long-term sustainable and competitive supply. This agreement also contributes to the increase and consolidation of renewable energy installations in Spain and Portugal.”
While the procurement of renewable energy will remain important for PepsiCo, on-site production not only helps drive down the carbon footprint of production, it also improves resilience in the face of challenges facing the European energy supply and supports lower operating costs. “The Iberian Peninsula is in good shape to face energy supply,” Sousa told us. “The ROI depends on several external variables and, although we are expecting a positive result, we cannot provide a specific number at this moment… On-site energy production is a good option for both reducing impact on price volatility and CO2 emissions in line with our strategy.”
The strategy being PepsiCo’s Pep+ strategy, an ‘end to end transformation’ that aims to put sustainability at the heart of PepsiCo’s business. “Any initiative focused on energy efficiency and CO2 reductions it is a priority for PepsiCo as part of our Pep+ agenda so we are confident this project will positively contribute to achieving our targets,” the operations expert explained.
Pep+ for positive impact
Through Pep+, PepsiCo has pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 40% by 2030 and achieve net zero emissions by 2040.
Specifically, PepsiCo plans to reduce GHG emissions in its direct operations by 75% and in its indirect operations by 40% by 2030. Together, this action is expected to contribute to a reduction of more than 26 million tons of GHG emissions globally, the equivalent of removing more than five million cars from the road for a year.
“PepsiCo's pep+ strategy provides a clear roadmap on how our business can sustainably grow and bring value to the planet and people. We are proud to start the year with announcing this new biodigester, a first for PepsiCo in Southern Europe. Now, we will accelerate collaboration with our partners to ensure we have the right infrastructure and eco-systems to deliver positive change across the value chain,” PepsiCo Europe’s Chief Sustainability Officer, Katharina Stenholm, said.
“We hope this project will be a case study showing PepsiCo's sustainability best practices at a European level, and also be an example of circularity and reconversion at a local level, since the project hopes to use waste from outside our plant in the future,” Sousa added.