General Mills, the MN-based food giant, is doing more with their oats than making Cheerios. This Spring, they began construction on a biomass steam boiler at the company’s milling plant in Fridley, MN where it produces oat flour for Cheerios, Lucky Charms, and other cereals. The boiler will be ready next year to burn oat hulls left over from the milling process and convert them into energy, reducing the mill’s carbon footprint by 21%.
The hulls release the same carbon they absorbed from the atmosphere as plants, making the process essentially carbon neutral. General Mills produces 90,000 tons of oat hulls per year from its two mills in Fridley, MN and northeast Minneapolis. It will use about 10% of that to power its Fridley plant. General Mills also sells its oat hulls to the Koda Energy plant in Shakopee, MN. The plant is 100% biomass-powered and produces malt for brewing.
This project is just one example of how food manufacturers are getting creative and discovering new value is the very old energy technology of biomass. The Fridley oat hull burner is General Mills’ first endeavor into using a food waste product as an energy substitute. Companies can save 20-30% on their fuel costs by switching from purchased fuel to waste fuel.
The decision was not as easy as it sounds however. Converting from a gas to a solid-fuel burner that can burn oat hulls is complex and not necessarily cost effective. Natural gas is cheaper than oat hulls today but the prices for natural gas are expected to be greater than oat hulls by the end of 2012 and beyond.
General Mills Sustainability