Energy lies at the heart of Axereal’s sustainability strategy

For several years now, teams across Axereal Group have been working on multiple projects to reduce our energy consumption. They have triggered strong momentum within the group, with initiatives ranging from production process optimisation to awareness campaigns for staff and an increased reliance on renewable energy. This momentum dovetails into a wider sustainable development strategy. We have in fact been putting in the groundwork for this since the mid 2010s, with efforts to protect the environment and be aware of the priorities of society at large and our customers, while also working to create value. Stemming from this, our CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) policy has various focuses including water management, the development of ecological agricultural practices, and of course all the issues surrounding energy.

Boortmalt has cut its energy consumption by 30% in 8 years

Energy is a key priority for Axereal’s malting plants. Boortmalt achieved ISO 50001 certification in 2015, for the ten malting plants that were part of the group at that time. Today, the focus within these production units is on continuous improvement and reducing their environmental footprint. This strategy will gradually be extended to cover the 16 malting plants that joined Boortmalt in November 2019 with the Cargill Malt acquisition.

Boortmalt will achieve its objectives by putting in place actions in numerous different areas. These will include investment projects (solar thermal panels, biomass power plants, etc.) and optimising operating systems (tracking energy consumption closely to spot anomalies early, installing LEDs across the various sites, running awareness campaigns for teams, etc.).  Multi-pronged five-year action plans have boosted energy efficiency. “Energy consumption is down 30% in eight years across the ten malting plants that were historically part of the group”, said Boormalt’s Energy and Sustainability Manager Joris Van Valckenborgh.

A heat network in Antwerp to cut the group’s carbon footprint

Boortmalt is working hard to limit its reliance on fossil fuels and thereby reduce the carbon footprint of its various units. At its Antwerp malting plant in Belgium, a large-scale project has been launched in partnership with waste management specialist Indaver. A heat network is to be built between the two sites, which stand 8km apart. From 2023, this network will enable the malting plant to harness some of the energy generated by incinerating waste. Hot water will be piped to the Boortmalt plant at more than 100°C.  Gigantic heat exchangers will produce the hot air used to dry the malt, a particularly energy-intensive stage of the production process. “Thanks to this new energy source, we will be able to cut our gas consumption by 30 to 40%”, said Joris Van Valckenborgh. “This will equate to a reduction in carbon emissions of around 35,000 tonnes per year for the Antwerp site.”

Concurrently, a 8MW wind turbine is to be installed on this same site, to supply green energy to the malting plant. A carport with solar panels is also in the pipeline. This 1MW facility will be another source of electricity for the plant, and will also be capable of charging up to 70 electric cars. “With all these projects in place, we are going to see a sharp increase in the proportion of renewable energy used on the site”, Joris Van Valckenborgh explained.  The projects will enable the teams at the malting plant to keep up their impetus towards sustainability, with their sights firmly set on Boortmalt’s ambitious targets. Several years ago, the group began a complete shake-up of its energy policy, with the aim of reducing carbon emissions by 60% between 2010 and 2030.

Reducing the energy consumption of production facilities

Axereal Elevage has undertaken an evaluation of these same energy issues, with an initial phase during which it analysed usages, measured consumption and defined priorities. Following this, an ambitious energy policy was rolled out across the sites.

The machines that keep feed compound sites running day-to-day have been a particular focus. New control systems are gradually being introduced so that teams can track energy consumption much more accurately. “We’re installing variable speed drives on motors,” explains Axereal Elevage’s Deputy Director Jean de Chanay. “We use them to reduce the power on our machines between two batches of work.” And that reduces electricity consumption. The same principle is being applied to the gas boilers used to generate steam. New burners are gradually being installed at the various sites (Saint-Germain-de-Salles and Feurs were the first, followed this winter by Pouligny-Notre-Dame where the burner was changed while a new boiler was being installed). Operating speeds can now be adjusted as required.

As equipment is progressively updated, more energy-efficient alternatives are chosen. This applies not only to new-generation motors, but also to the lighting on all the sites. LEDs are gradually being installed everywhere. At the same time, teams are using innovative solutions to detect where energy is being lost (e.g. by installing leak detectors in compressed air circuits). They are also working to optimise the operation of certain machines.

Axereal Elevage reduces its environmental footprint

Saving energy has clearly become a major focus at Axereal Elevage. “Of all the energy we use today, 85% is covered by energy management”, Jean de Chanay explains. Seven sites are ISO 50001 Energy Management certified. An eighth recently began working towards this.

In gaining this certification, Axereal Elevage has both reduced its environmental footprint and saved energy. At Saint-Germain-de-Salles, for example, gas consumption has fallen by 12% since the burner was changed on the boiler. “Across all our sites collectively, we have cut our annual electricity bill by €50,000”, explains Axereal Elevage’s Project Manager Thomas Benmeddour. The same trend can be seen in diesel consumption. By training drivers in eco-driving techniques and investing in more energy-efficient vehicles, consumption has been reduced by 0.7 litres of diesel for every 100km travelled.

And the approach has another advantage too: “it has led to a shared energy culture across the company”, says Jean de Chanay. As part of this culture, considering the environment has become second nature for the teams. For example, the sales staff no longer travel to see customers unless they really need to, and the heating is switched off in office buildings at the weekend. And all these initiatives save even more energy. “Our energy management project has triggered a focus on innovation among the staff”, Jean de Chanay continues. They discuss ideas and suggest ways of reducing our carbon footprint. But energy management has also significantly boosted knowledge of processes and preventive maintenance, because variances in energy consumption herald technical issues.” It also reinforces “staff’s pride in belonging to a company which is committed to being frugal with our world’s energy resources”.

In another project worthy of recognition, all Axereal Elevage delivery staff are being trained in eco-driving. Some ten drivers attended sessions in 2019, and another thirty will do so this year. The programme teaches simple driving techniques that reduce diesel consumption, such as braking and accelerating gently, paying attention to stopping distances and making use of engine braking where possible. The drivers will put all these excellent tips into practice when they climb back into their trucks.