General Mills is a well-known name to anyone who has gone to a grocery store or watched television commercials on a Saturday morning. But here is a lesser-known fact: the Lucky Charms cereal you or your kids dig into at breakfast soon may be made using a unique form of renewable energy. The company plans to deploy its first on-site biomass steam boiler in early 2011 at its milling plant in Fridley, Minn., where it produces oat flour for its signature cereals, including Lucky Charms.
The boiler will burn the plant’s leftover oat hulls, the outer casing of oats that is removed from the grain’s dense center. While the dense center begins process of becoming breakfast cereal, the hulls will be used as fuel to run the process.
The new boiler will replace a natural-gas boiler, making the mill partially self-sustaining, in addition to cutting its carbon footprint by 21 percent by reducing carbon emissions. Because the hulls release the same carbon they absorbed from the atmosphere as plants, the process is essentially carbon neutral. The hulls have 80 percent of the energy of coal without the harmful effects on the environment.
“General Mills is committed to reducing our environmental footprint in areas like water, solid waste, energy and greenhouse gas emissions,” says Gregg Stedronsky, General Mills vice president for engineering. “That’s good for the planet and good for our business.”
Energy produced from burning the oat hulls will be enough to produce 90 percent of the steam needed for making oat flour and heating the Fridley plant, and that only takes 12 percent of the leftover hulls. General Mills’ remaining oat hulls are sold to the Koda facility, which is a partnership between the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community and Rahr Malting Co. This facility creates enough energy to power 30,000 homes in Shakopee, Minn. General Mills supplies about a third of the Koda facility’s fuel needs.
The biomass boiler project will help the milling plant save more than $500,000 in natural gas costs every year.