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Unilever to create “green energy” at ice cream factory

By Helen Glaberson , 21-Jan-2011
Last updated the 21-Jan-2011 at 15:45 GMT

Unilever is to create “green energy” at its Ben and Jerry’s ice cream factory in Holland by installing a bio-digester which converts natural waste products into gas.

The food giant, together with Paques, a producer of water and gas purification systems, has started the construction of a bio-digester at Unilever’s ice cream factory in Hellendoorn, the Netherlands.

According to Paques, its bio-digester will cover 40 per cent of the factory’s green energy requirements.

Rudi van der Arend, sustainability program manager at Ben & Jerry's told DairyReporter.com that Unilever plans to install the digesters at its other plants.

Other food companies are also interested in using such technologies said Rob Heim, managing director at Paques.

More and more companies have sustainability goals and such technologies help to meet these goals. Several companies have already shown interest in this new technology and Paques is currently running pilot tests at these locations,” Heim told this publication.

Turning waste products into energy

Unilever claims to be one of the fist companies worldwide to use this type of bio-digester: the BIOPAQ AFR (Anaerobic Flotation Reactor). BIOPAQ is the family name for anaerobic COD removal.

In the digester, wastewater is purified by converting waste products from ice cream production such as milk, cream, proteins, syrups and pieces of fruit, and converting them into biogas.

The technology is expected to become operational at the factory in mid 2011.

According to Paques, the digester has been specially developed for the anaerobic treatment of waste streams that contain FOG (fat, oil, grease) and/or biodegradable solids like proteins and starch.

Paques claims its BIOPAQ AFR is “unique” in the field of purification of fat-containing wastewater. This is because wastewater streams that contain fat and oil are treated and digested in one compact reactor, together with degradable particles, “whereas in conventional systems this is only possible by going through a number of processing stages,” said Paques.

“It fills the long-existing gap between high rate anaerobic reactors and digesters,” the company added.

Sustainable Living Plan

Unilever said that the building of the bio-digester fitted in well with the further implementation of the company’s Sustainable Living Plan which aims to reduce its production of waste and consumption of water and energy.

The plan contains over 50 targets that aim to halve the environmental impact of the company’s products and source 100 per cent of agricultural raw materials sustainably.

The company also has a goal of doubling its renewable energy use to 40 per cent of its total energy requirement by 2020.

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