The Eco-Friendly Potato Chip Is Coming

As energy costs skyrocket it’s not just consumers who are hurting, manufacturers aren’t pleased with the energy bills they’re getting either.

The NYT takes a closer look at Frito-Lay and their quest for the cheaper (eco-friendly) potato chip.

The new plant sounds sort of nifty, like Mr. Wizard designed it.

The plant’s locale also offered an attractive storyline for consumers: recycling water in the middle of the desert and producing snack chips from solar concentrators.

The project will start next year with the installation of a membrane bio-reactor, which looks like a railroad car with long strands of fettuccine hanging from the ceiling. In fact, the strands are filters that will clean the water used to process potato chips and corn products.

The waste produced by the filtering process will then be fed to a new anaerobic digester, which will produce methane gas to run the plant’s boiler.

The second stage of the process will be the installation of at least 50 acres of solar concentrators behind the plant. Similar concentrators are now being installed at a plant in Modesto, Calif. The concentrators are parabolic mirrors about three feet off the ground that move with the sun and focus energy on a tube filled with water, much as a magnifying glass focuses the sun’s rays.

The water is heated to about 500 degrees and is run through a maze of pipes back to the plant, where it will power a steam generator.

The last portion of the net zero plant would be a biomass generator that provides additional fuel to run the plant’s boiler. Company officials have not yet determined what type of material will be used as fuel.

Frito-Lay says that if energy prices stay the same the plant will end up costing more than their current energy guzzling way of doing things, but they’re optimistic (pessimistic?) enough to give it a shot.

“If the price of these resources continues to rise, we will be very happy we made these investments,” said Rich Beck, senior vice president for operations.

In Eco-Friendly Factory, Low-Guilt Potato Chips [NYT]
(Photo:strobist)

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  1. Buran says:

    I’m environmentally conscious and do what I can to go easy on it. Since I also sometimes have Dorito binges (the nacho ones can do that to you – one day I love ‘em for the next week or so I hate ‘em), it’s nice to know that something that I buy from time to time is going to be made in a more environmentally-friendly way.

    Yes, it is true that if energy prices stay the same things may be more costly. However, that’s not the only reason to do things like this. Dollar value isn’t the only cost associated with our current way of doing things — we need to start being more mindful of the long term as well. Saving money is good (why else would we be here on this site?) but keeping this planet in good shape for the future is even better.

    I’ve been atop the Acropolis and seen what air pollution has done to the Parthenon that has stood for a thousand years. If we keep going on the way we do, it won’t last another thousand.

  2. dirtymoney says:

    Why do I get the feeling that “green manufacturing” somehow means that my favorite potato chips wont taste as good as before? :(

  3. vanilla-fro says:

    Why wouldn’t this oil free(ish) factory be cheaper in the long run no matter what happened with fuel prices, unless of course gas dropped to 3 cents a gallon?

  4. ragold says:

    Can anyone do the math on what kind of pressure is required to keep H2O in a liquid state at 500 (F, C)?

  5. m.ravian says:

    um, it’s not like lay’s potato chips are fabulous to begin with….

  6. nickripley says:

    @ragold: Yeah…

    *calculates*

    It’s a lot.

  7. nickripley says:

    @nickripley: Crap… hit “post” too soon. 3500 PSI?

  8. Flynn says:

    @ragold: Well, let’s see. P1*V1/T1 = P2*V2/T2. To keep the volume the same (which means it doesn’t boil), we can just remove the V’s. That leaves us with a simple ratio: P1/T1 = P2/T2. Since water boils at 100C (212F), at that point, the pressure is 1 atmosphere (that’s what boiling means…the temp at which liquid becomes gas of 1 atmosphere pressure). So, if we look at that, we get:

    1 / 100 = x / 500
    multiplying both sides by 500 we get
    500 / 100 = x
    simplifying
    x = 5 atmospheres

    So at 5 atmospheres, water’s boiling point is 500 C. Now, to do this all again at 500 F:

    1 / 212 = x / 500
    500/212 = x
    x = 2.36 atmospheres

    BTW, given that 1 atmosphere is approx 14.7 psi, we’re looking at 73.5 psi for 500C, and 34.7 for 500F. Doesn’t seem that tough considering my rubber bike tire holds more than that.

    Now, IANAP, so YMMV. :)

  9. Flynn says:

    @Flynn: One mistake…keeping the volume the same because it HAS boiled (working with gas laws here), not because it hasn’t.

  10. Buran says:

    @dirtymoney: Because you’re making a way-too-premature assumption?

  11. ragold says:

    I thought there were phase change jumps for pressure just as there are for temperature in calculating the energy to reach different states of matter (e.g. Calories needed to go from 90C to 100C is a lot less than Calories needed to go from 100C to 110C)… Which makes me think it’s a lot more than a few atmospheres.

  12. Flynn says:

    BTW, anyone else have a chem teacher who used to how how to boil water at room temp? I always loved how easy it was to do that experiment.

  13. Flynn says:

    @ragold: That may be for the energy needed, but gas laws in general, and Charles’ Law in specific, are pretty straightforward. Since we look at the point at which water is a gas at 1 atmosphere (the definition of boiling), it’s right there.

    [en.wikipedia.org]

    Now, I don’t know how much more energy is required to raise something to that temp, but since the pressures my calculations came up with are easy to achieve, it seems like it would be a pretty simple backyard experiment to test it.

  14. Sam says:

    @Flynn: More fun was the incredible growing marshmallow, which also makes use of a bell jar.

  15. coss3n says:

    I thought Frito-Lay already made Sun Chips.

  16. ragold says:

    Ok, looking at the first chart on this university website [www.lsbu.ac.uk] water boils at 500 F under about 5,000 kPa and 500 C under about 50,000 kPa. Sea level air pressure is at 100 kPa so if this is true, that’s a whole lot of pressure, especially the 50,000 kPa figure which is about equivilent to 17,000 feet under the sea.

  17. synergy says:

    I wonder if they have a recapture system for when the water boiling at that temperature starts to evaporate. They surely can’t go to all that bother and then have all the water disappear into the atmosphere.

  18. aaronrobb says:

    Here’s the issue I see with plants like this. They’re taking 50 or so acres to make a solar field. While the article says its in the desert, what happens to plants that are not and they cover 50 acres with solar panels…? I mean thats 50 acres of green space that will be squashed.