After a $1.8 million investment, food processor giant Cargill, Minneapolis, has increased the energy efficiency at its Morgan, Colo.-based beef processing plant, with much of the savings due to a new boiler and better biogas recovery.

“I grew up on a small farm in Minnesota and know how important it is to properly manage every resource and waste nothing,” says Nicole Johnson-Hoffman, the plant’s assistant vice president and general manager. “Managing a large beef processing facility means that we do the same things that are done on small farms or small-scale beef processing operations, only we do it on a much larger scale.”

For example, a 10-percent reduction of natural gas use came from the installation of a more efficient boiler and increased biogas recovery from the facility’s water treatment operation, as well as from implementation of an energy management system. More than 30 percent of the fuel used by the facility is from renewable sources, while more than 23 percent of the total energy used (fuel and electricity) comes from renewables such as biogas.

Biogas is generated when methane is created using anaerobic digesters to break down organic material in the plant’s wastewater. The gas then is used as a fuel source, which prevents it from being released into the atmosphere. Capturing the methane from biogas reduces greenhouse gas emissions while also serving as a fuel source. The plant’s biogas recovery system reduces demand for natural gas equal to the amount consumed annually by more than 2,700 residential users, which is approximately two-thirds of the residential houses in Fort Morgan. In 1995, Fort Morgan became the first of Cargill’s 10 North American beef processing facilities to install a biogas recovery system.

“Our boiler efficiency increased five to seven percent to approximately 85 percent by purchasing and installing a new unit that is heated using biogas and natural gas fuel,” Johnson-Hoffman says. “We also reduced our cost of electricity by nearly $300,000 annually as a result of installing new lighting. The electricity savings equates to 3.4 million kilowatt hours annually, which is enough to supply power to 244 homes for a full year, based on U.S. Department of Energy calculations.”