Companies tap industrial waste for savings

/ Source: CNBC

One man's trash is another man's treasure. And the same goes for corporate America's waste.

Companies and municipalities have been looking to their landfills and trash bins for fuel sources for years. But with energy prices spiking, that search has intensified.

Just about every business is looking to cut costs these days -- particularly industries under intense pricing pressure. As a result, waste-to-energy projects are getting more popular, thanks to the rising payoff of a smaller energy bill.

On the cutting floor of global food giant Cargill's pork processing plant here, nothing goes to waste. From the choice cuts, like the back ribs and the shoulders to the fat that falls on the floor. But it's the water used to clean up the place that actually saves Cargill money.

Under a huge dome lies a 19-million gallon lagoon, where that waste water is transformed into energy.

"Water comes from operation with organic material," said Cargill General Manager Steve Pirkle. "The bacteria feeds off that material and generates the gas."

That methane gas is then fed to the company’s boiler room to generate steam and hot water, for sterilizing instruments. That cuts Cargill's energy bill, helping the company battle rising costs and thin margins.

Aside from its renewable energy project here, Cargill has seven others just like it, and two under construction. The reason behind the investment is simple: cargill saved $10 million in natural gas costs last year.

Though there are no exact numbers, efforts like Cargill's are gaining ground as technology makes more kinds of waste, cost-effective sources of energy.

At Shaw Industries, Inc., a maker of carpet and wood flooring, much of what used to go to the landfill -- about 25 million pounds of waste a year -- now heads to Shaw's brand new, $10 million power plant in in Dalton, Ga., where carpet remnants and overruns are shredded and combined with sawdust.

That mixture is essentially gassified, and then used to generate 50,000 pounds of steam per hour -- steam that's essential for dying carpet.

It's something that Shaw executive vice president Vance Bell, a 30-year company veteran, never thought possible -- because simply burning carpet gives off harmful emissions.

“This process keeps those greenhouse gases into ash that's created here and encapsulates that,” he said. “So it's a much cleaner burning fuel.”

The bottom line is that Shaw saves $1 million a year. But the bigger payoff comes from using the technology in other industries.

At Siemen's Energy Group, Rick LeBlanc, senior vice president of the Building Automation division, helped develop Shaw's plant. He's seen demand for technology like this soar, with sales at up more than 30 percent last year.

“The promise to a CEO is that you are no longer victim to energy costs,” sad LeBlanc. “You can have some control over your destiny and be environmentally friendly at the same time.”

At Cargill, taking control goes beyond biogas. The company also composts office garbage to cut landfill costs, with the top soil then sold to golf courses and nurseries.

“We're always looking at ways you know through energy our operations to cut costs but also be good to mother nature,” said Pirkle.

It’s one way companies are finding new ways to save by giving new meaning to waste.