Tour of a 'green' tortilla chip manufacturing plant

RP news wires

Lee Patrick Sullivan tours the Shearer's tortilla chip factory, the world's first LEED Platinum certified snack food plant, and interviews its manager, Ken Brower.

It starts in the room where Shearer's unloads its corn from trucks and cooks it using recycled heat from the infrared oven that's used to bake the chips. That allows water to come into the cooking kettles at about 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The plant also uses real corn, right off the cob, not corn mash like some other plants. The room is lit using skylights and large windows, and the in-house lighting is adjusted according to the amount of natural light coming in. Brower says this lighting system is the key component that allows the factory to use 30 percent less energy than others of the same size. Brower says it allows the company to buy higher-quality materials and produce a better product than its competitors, while offering it to consumers at a competitive cost.

Brower says the energy-saving components aren't all that revolutionary, just a lot of commonsense ideas that are being put together in a manufacturing plant for the first time. Brower says the reason other plants don't have these features is because it would cost a lot of money to retrofit an existing building, Shearer's was able to save some money by incorporating them into a new plant, but it is getting ready to put some of the same features into an older plant.

The centerpiece of the plant is its infrared oven, which bakes the chips before they are fried. Brower says the oven is built to save energy by drawing the air it heats from its own output. he compares it to a home chimney, which pulls in air from the bottom, heats it, and sends most of that eat up the chimney. This oven starts with air that has already been heated, so it does not require as much energy to reach the proper baking temperature. He says it's the first one of its kind and about 47 percent more efficient than others on the market.

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