CEDAR RAPIDS — Sometimes it’s what you don’t see that illustrates part of the overall story.
A steam plume used to be visible rising from the 45-year-old General Mills plant off Edgewood Road SW south of Highway 30.
Plant engineers developed a process that recycles heat for use in ingredient preparation, and to reduce dehumidification costs. It reduces annual water consumption by 2.2 million gallons and prevents the release of about 5,500 tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year.
Minneapolis, Minn.-based General Mills has invested $10 million in the Cedar Rapids heat recovery project and is evaluating similar heat recovery projects at 14 other plants, which could lead to annual savings of about $2 million.
The heat recovery project is an example of many initiatives the Cedar Rapids plant has taken to save General Mills $4.3 million per year in energy costs, cutting the facility’s total energy bill by more than a third.
The U.S. Department of Energy on Tuesday recognized General Mills for its leadership in pursuing energy savings through innovative technologies as demonstrated in the Cedar Rapids plant. Lynn Orr, undersecretary for science and energy at DOE, toured the plant in connection with the agency’s Better Plant Challenge.
“The General Mills plant in Cedar Rapids is an example of the extraordinary potential the American food industry has in finding and achieving energy and cost savings,” Orr said. “The industrial sector accounts for something like 25 percent of the nation’s energy use. If we managed to implement the same kind of savings throughout the production chain in the industry as a whole, it would advance U.S. competitiveness in manufacturing, reduce carbon emissions and help create jobs.”
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The Cedar Rapids General Mills plant, which employs about 750 people full time producing cereals, fruit snacks and Betty Crocker frosting, generates $1.5 billion in annual sales. Manager Rue Patel said that makes it the largest General Mills plant in terms of sales volume and amount of product produced.
“We want to be conservative and more energy efficient,” Patel said. “We compete for our business, not only within General Mills but outside of the company.
“We also are environmentally conscious, making sure we reduce our carbon footprint all the time.”