October 01, 2019

Cocoa Shells as Fuel: Bioenergy that Boosts Production Capacity

Producing hundreds of tons of chocolate each day is energy intensive. The Barry Callebaut factory in Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec, the largest chocolate factory in North America, recently revamped its systems to cut down on energy use while increasing productivity. The strategy: the cocoa shells that were previously a waste product are now used as a biofuel in the chocolate-making process.

Waste-to-Energy and Productivity Gains

Since mid-2018, part of the steam used to heat the cocoa beans is generated by a biomass boiler that runs on cocoa shells. Once considered waste, this production residue is now a free and convenient fuel source that replaces natural gas. Productivity and competitiveness have both increased, thanks to $199,000/year in natural gas savings as well as an innovative trade secret that has reduced the roasting time of the beans.

The biomass boiler fueled with cocoa shells generates part of the steam required for the factory’s industrial processes.

Another advantage: the project is helping Barry Callebaut reach its strategic objective of incorporating green energy sources and reducing energy consumption in its chocolate factories across the globe. “Reclaiming organic waste as fuel is perfectly aligned with this objective,” affirms Jocelyn Morin, Director of Maintenance and Engineering at the factory in Saint-Hyacinthe.

Collaboration and Integrated Delivery: Keys to Success

The Barry Callebaut factory has its own engineering team that is well versed in project management. “We’re very knowledgeable about machines that make chocolate, less so about biomass boilers. And since our work is to produce chocolate, we have little time to develop this type of project in an optimal way,” explains Jocelyn Morin, who preferred to partner with an outside firm that could take full responsibility for the project.

Biomass isn’t commonplace for industrial processes, and opting for newer technologies is always more complex than sticking to the beaten path. When deciding to move forward, it was critical to Barry Callebaut to partner with an expert firm that would offer performance guarantees, install the new equipment without affecting production, and fully commit to optimizing boiler operation. Collaborating as an integrated team during design, construction, and optimization was key to the project’s success.

“What’s more, Ecosystem maximized the amount of incentives we received to help fund the project. That takes expertise. We might have missed out on these funds if we had done the project ourselves,” acknowledges Jocelyn Morin.

Prioritizing Performance

Barry Callebaut’s engineering team had clear project specifications and requirements: the installation of a biomass boiler calibrated to burn cocoa shells, and respecting numerous technical constraints related to the industrial process.

Optimizing this type of equipment was a concern for the engineering team. According to Yannis Huber, Project Engineer at the factory in Saint-Hyacinthe, “integrating clean technology is always a challenge. Optimization is a key step for achieving performance and facilitating maintenance,” two other requirements for Barry Callebaut’s team. “Ecosystem was very involved during this crucial step, everyone put their shoulder to the wheel, we never felt alone,” he added.

Barry Callebaut selected the project that best met their requirements, not the one with the lowest cost. “We didn’t choose a price, we chose a project that turns our vision into reality and generates long-term value,” asserts Jocelyn Morin. This added value includes guaranteed annual savings, increased productivity, and a reduced carbon footprint, in line with the parent company’s environmental objective.

Optimize to Produce More

“When we want to increase productivity, the first reflex is adding more production equipment,” says Jocelyn Morin. However, this project shows that optimizing existing equipment can bring significant productivity gains with a smaller investment. The fine-tuning of certain machines was carried out alongside the installation of the new biomass boiler, ensuring the highest levels of performance were achieved.

The Barry Callebaut factory in Saint-Hyacinthe won three awards for this project:

  • 2019 ASHRAE Technology Award, Industrial Facilities or Processes – Existing Building – Region 2 (Eastern Canada). Award presented by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) for outstanding achievements in applied innovation.
  • 2019 Canada Region Innovative Energy Project of the Year. Award presented by the Association of Energy Engineers (AEE) to recognize industry-leading projects in the field of energy management.
  • 2019 Eureka Award, Manufacturer and Industrial Category. Award presented by Ecotech Quebec to celebrate early adopters of cleantech.
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