ABP Food Group, which is headquartered in Ireland, has built up an impressive business strategy across multiple sectors including meat, protein, renewable energy and pet food. Ahead of BlueTech Forum, sustainability and environmental manager John Durkan explains how cost-efficiency and sustainable practice is at the forefront of business operations.

One of Europe’s largest food processing companies, ABP realised it needed to fully understand the multiple ways water is managed at all its facilities if it was to achieve cost saving through resource efficiency. Water is crucial to ABP’s business and through its Doing More With Less programme, the company aims to reduce water by 50% and energy by 40% by 2020.

“Water is a critical ingredient and resource in our processes,” says John Durkan, sustainability and environmental manager at ABP. “It’s a commodity and it can be very expensive.

“We have to pretreat it, soften it, chlorinate it and store it. All of that is cost and it’s important that we identify and understand those costs.

“Then we need water at different temperatures – 45oC, 65oC and 95oC – so we need to ensure that we understand the cost of generating that heat in terms of fossil fuel consumption and the impact on CO2 emissions. So we’ve integrated that carbon dioxide metric and the water metric to come up with the cost of water.

“A lot of the water we obtain in Ireland is from aquifers, a groundwater resource. All too often we see difficulties in getting the quantities of water we want, so our 2020 target is about doing more with less.

Site certification

ABP has used the European Water Stewardship (EWS) scheme to certify and assess each site, looking at groundwater extraction, water monitoring and management, wastewater treatment, reuse and discharge. Its plant in Cahir, Tipperary, was awarded the Gold Standard in 2015 and best practice was rolled out to all nine sites in Ireland, which all achieved the independently verified certification in 2017.

“The EWS signifies to us the need to have a roadmap to develop a good water strategy for our business,” says Durkan. “We are going through a climate change phenomenon in Europe, even in Ireland which has heavy rainfall.

“Reducing the burden of water abstraction and wastewater discharge on the environment is critical because water is going to become a resource that is much more difficult to source in the long-term. Back in 2008, when we started looking at technologies for water, the Holy Grail was rainwater harvesting, which is very dependent on one thing – the size of the tank and roof area you use.

“However, rainfall isn’t consistent and it isn’t clean,” he explains. “You need massive tanks to collect the rainwater and it falls on a roof that’s contaminated.

“Instead we looked at treated wastewater coming out of our wastewater treatment facilities, because we have a steady stream coming out on a regular basis, at the time that it’s needed. You have it 12 hours every day during production and five days-a-week all year around.”

Advanced technologies

John Durkan says ABP has spent a lot of time looking at technologies to further improve wastewater quality, including ultrafiltration (UF) and reverse osmosis (RO).

“We have a number of sites in Ireland and the UK where we super-treat wastewater to a potable standard and recycle significant quantities of water back into non-processing areas for reuse. We haven’t jumped the whole way back into process areas because there’s still a perception issue.

“We have wastewater that’s treated to a very high standard, that is now potable, but there is still the perception that it’s wastewater. You put already-treated wastewater through RO, which polishes it totally, but explaining that to a retailer or consumer is difficult.

“It’s only when you come to site to see the wastewater process that you realise how advanced and safe the technology is. To demonstrate the result of our RO water treatment to retailers, we brought them to the plant and offered them a glass of water straight from the RO process.”

“We have to have very clear and distinct uses for that reused water. Currently we use it to clean the lairage (cattle pens), cattle transport vehicles, to wash down contaminated yards, for use in amenities and in cooling towers.”

Continuous monitoring

Durkan says monitoring and measuring water consumption at each plant is essential in meeting efficiency targets, with key performance indicators (KPIs) set for every meter. The data is collected centrally and displayed on an internal dashboard.

“We interrogate that data,” he explains. “We have online continuous monitoring so we understand fully where and what is being used and alarm and highlight where it is being used in excess.

He goes further, “When we talk about reductions in resource consumption there are two main ways to achieve that: there is the continuous improvement way, where you make small incremental changes to improve performance on a daily, weekly, monthly basis. Then there are the capital investment programmes which give us a quantum leap forward in terms of water reduction and efficiency.

“We have invested heavily to change strategy and have developed a design philosophy that will deliver those reductions.”

Sustainability ethos

ABP is constantly on the lookout for technologies that sit within its sustainability ethos. One example is the creation of closed-loop cooking oil recycling, operating from a purpose-built plant in Liverpool as ABP Olleco.

Used cooking oil (UCO) is collected from over 50,000 catering establishments and restaurants. It is refined by Olleco and used as a raw material for biodiesel manufacture at the Liverpool site. This biodiesel fuels many distribution vehicles for the very same restaurants and catering establishments. The scale of the operation makes ABP the largest collector of bio-oil in the British Isles.

“We feel it is incumbent on ABP to deliver sustainable growth within the food industry and within the beef industry, Durkan says, “and we will put in place practices that would improve performance and efficiency.

“It’s all about management and people, starting with our plants, leading right up to the retailers. It is important to manage all processes and practices and ensure our targets are met and our vision maintained.”

John Durkan is taking a key role in BlueTech Forum, which takes place in Dublin, Ireland on 6-7 June. He will host a roundtable on End-user innovation needs. Other commpanies taking part in this session include Anglian Water, Nestle, L’Oreal, MetsaBoard and Microsoft. The US Environmental Protection Agency is also in attendance.