Like many large manufacturing companies, in response to today’s societal push to reduce waste, recycle and become more environmentally friendly, Procter & Gamble Co. has a company-wide, long-term environmental sustainability vision. Maker of consumer products including Charmin, Bounty and Tide, P&G embarked on its long-term environmental sustainability vision in 2010.

“That vision is that we ultimately want to be the company that uses 100 percent renewable materials for all product and packaging, with plants running on renewable energy and zero consumer waste going to the landfill,” says Len Sauers, P&G’s vice president of global sustainability. “One of goals is to achieve 30 percent renewable energy by 2020, and this project is an incremental step toward this long-term vision.”

In recent years, the company has transitioned to hydro power in Poland, solar power in California and wind power in China. Turning its attention to its Albany, Georgia, plant, P&G found the biomass solution to make the most sense for renewable power being economically viable.

And although P&G already has a biomass boiler at the location—for the past 30 years, it has provided 30 percent of the facility’s steam power from wood chips—the company saw this as an opportunity to broaden its use and go larger. Partnered with Constellation Energy for a new $200 million cogeneration plant, the project will expand the facility’s use of renewable energy, increasing its efficiency and decreasing its environmental footprint.

Partners In Power
Under terms of the partnership, Constellation will build, own and operate the plant, which will supply steam to P&G’s paper manufacturing facility via a 20-year steam supply agreement, and generate up to 385,000 megawatt-hours of electricity annually that it will sell to the local utility, Georgia Power.

According to Ron Melchior, executive director of distributed energy at Constellation, the plant will provide P&G up to 425,000 pounds per hour of renewable process steam. “The plant’s fuel supply will come from local sources of biomass that would otherwise have been left to decay, burned, or potentially sent to landfill, including crop residuals (pecan shells, peanut hulls), discarded tree tops, limbs or branches, and mill waste.” Melchior says. “Scrap wood will be collected from the surrounding area, turned into wood chips and brought to the site.”

Sauers says the company collaborated with the World Wildlife Fund to develop sustainable fuel procurement standards, and great emphasis was placed on making sure the incoming scrap wood used at the plant met its broader forestry and sustainable sourcing guidelines. “The incoming biomass will provide 100 percent of the steam and up to 60 to 70 percent of the total energy used to manufacture Bounty paper towels and Charmin toilet tissue,” Sauers says. 

In fact, a third-party Forest Resource Assessment conducted by Black & Veatch revealed that the region surrounding the plant was home to an abundant supply of waste wood to support the plant operations, and, since the supply is renewable, it enables the plant not to consume material at a faster rate than it is replenished. 

As Melchior explains the process, chips will be placed inside the plant’s new boiler and burned, allowing the heat to convert piped-in water into high-pressure steam. That steam pressure will drive a turbine connected to an electric generator. A large percentage of the steam energy will be used by P&G in manufacturing, while the rest will create electricity that will be fed into the power grid through an existing overhead transmission line for Georgia Power. “What makes cogeneration so interesting is its efficiency relative to other forms of generating power, because most forms of generating power that involve any type of fossil fuel produce heat and that heat is not optimally used,” he says. “A cogeneration plant takes that heat, in the form of steam, and optimizes the energy being produced by the plant between electricity and heat, and that makes the plant very efficient. The use of waste fuel in the form of biomass makes it ultraeffective both socially and economically.”

The new Albany Green Energy plant is a 50-MW capacity cogeneration plant, which, when coupled with the additional steam load from P&G, would be equivalent in size to many of the largest biomass-fueled facilities in the U.S. 

“To make the economics work, we had to move from this relatively small boiler to what was a utility-scale type of operation,” Sauers says. “It started getting outside the expertise of P&G, so we sought out a partner and Constellation was the best fit.”

Currently, P&G uses about 8 percent renewable energy and the change at the plant will result in another 5 to 7 percent, which will put the company halfway toward its goal of achieving 30 percent by 2020. And one day, the company hopes, 100 percent.

“This will account for 60 to 70 percent of our total energy use,” Sauers says. “We still will have 30 percent coming from natural gas, because certain properties with Charmin and Bounty require very high temperatures that we can’t do with steam.”

The old boiler will be decommissioned once the new plant is operational.

In mid-March, ground was broken and Constellation was hard at work to get the new plant up and operational by June 2017. “We’ve started construction on the ground and we’re starting to order major pieces of equipment,” Melchior says. “There’s construction on the roads, we’re moving the parking lot and creating room and access for fuel delivery trucks. We’re also doing all the storm water management and normal up-front work that’s required for a project of this size.”

Gary Fromer, senior vice president of distributed energy at Constellation, says the existing boilers provide steam for the paper mill, and will remain in place and work concurrently until everything is up and running. Only then will they be taken out, although two additional gas boilers are staying.
When complete, Fromer says there’s a chance that the Albany Green Energy plant might also one day provide energy to the adjacent U.S. Marine Corps, providing even greater benefits. 

Other companies with a role in bringing this all together include Exelon Power, Constellation’s affiliate, which will collaborate on the design, construction, operations and maintenance of the plant; DCO Energy LLC, which will hold a minority stake in the project and provide engineering, procurement and construction services; the Albany Development Authority, which offered a Payment In Lieu of Tax, which helped reduce the nonlabor-related operating costs of the facility and promoted the creation of new construction jobs; and Sterling Energy Assets, which worked with both P&G and Constellation on the development of the Albany Green Energy plant.

Procurement Plan
Fromer says Constellation is committed to the environment and the company has a sustainability program with very specific goals, which line up well with the standards of P&G. “We worked with them to set up procurement standards and fuel standards as to what qualifies as renewable fuel, which was also done in parallel with requirements we have for fuel supply with our agreement with Georgia Power,” he says. “Our purchase agreement has very specific terms approved that require fuel to meet the biomass standards in Georgia. We want to ensure that the forest floor is appropriately cleaned and replanted so it can remain a sustainable forestry industry.”

Since P&G has been purchasing biomass in the area for more than 30 years, it has established relationships with proven sustainable suppliers who will continue to source the plant. “The material will be coming from a number of external partners in our area,” Sauers says. “This program works because it’s a heavily forested area, so there is plenty of biomass available to us. We will get reports annually from those procuring so we know the source of the wood, and we know if they are meeting the requirements we have in place for this. We will make sure the wood isn’t coming from sources we deem unacceptable.”

It all goes back to that robust plan the company has instituted. “The use of renewable energy is important to P&G, and we created goals and have a vision and effort to continue to work it,” Sauers says. “It’s important for our brand to have a communication with consumers so they can see we are responsible and also understand we are being very responsible for sourcing.”