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]