What Could Be Better than Renewable Energy from Chocolate?

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, for those of you who already believed that chocolate was the most perfect substance on Earth, here is another reason to think so. Who knew that the same delicious brown bean that hopefully melts your true love’s heart can also generate clean green power? Well, almost. It’s the shells, actually, the cocoa bean shells that are left over after the chocolate has been made. They are now being used as biofuel. You might wonder where this is happening. West Africa? Brazil?

No, it’s actually in New Hampshire, the Live Free or Die state, which is also the home of chocolatier Lindt USA. Lindt recently announced a partnership with Public Service of New Hampshire (PSNH)  for the burning of cocoa bean shells to produce electricity from one of the three 50MW boilers at PSNH’s Schiller Station power plant in Portsmouth. The shells are a byproduct of Lindt’s manufacturing process at its nearby facility in Stratham. The company recently expanded the facility to incorporate the chocolate production process, which had previously taken place in Europe.

After a successful pilot, the joint plan between the utility and the chocolate-maker to incorporate cocoa bean shells as a supplementary fuel source was approved last month by New Hampshire’s Department of Environmental Services. Lindt is expected to soon deliver the first load of shells to be burned under the agreement.

“This program is a win-win,” noted Thomas Linemayr, President and CEO Lindt USA. “We are reducing our own carbon impact by shortening the production process, and now by disposing of a byproduct in a responsible manner that benefits PSNH and its customers.”

“This is one of many steps we’ve taken to continuously improve our environmental programs,” said Bill Smagula, PSNH Director of Generation. “It will allow us to replace a portion of coal with a portion of biomass, and that’s another step in the right direction.” According to Smagula, every ton of cocoa bean shells used to generate electricity for PSNH customers will displace the need to burn one half-ton of coal.

The pilot test demonstrated that a 30:1 blend of coal and cocoa shells can be successfully integrated in one of the power plant’s two existing coal boilers. That means the 50MW boiler will emit approximately 15 million pounds less CO2 per year by incorporating the shells,  a good-sized number in the absolute sense, though a relatively puny portion of the overall carbon footprint. Still, this is an important example of the kind of action that can be taken quickly for an immediate impact, while longer term, even more sustainable plans are being made. At the same time, it also addresses the issues of disposal of the shells.

An example of a more sustainable plan, can, in fact be found in the very same building. Another of the three boilers, called Northern Wood Power, burns clean wood chips exclusively. This wood-fired boiler reduces coal consumption by 130,000 tons, enough to eliminate some 370,000 tons of CO2 annually. As a matter of fact I mentioned this boiler earlier this week in another post about biofuels, soon before learning about the cocoa shells.

Lindt is one of the few chocolate manufacturers in the world which has complete control over every step of its production and supply chain. This allows it to take measures that, according to Lindt & Sprüngli CEO Ernst Tanner, “contribute significantly to the protection and improvement of our workers’ welfare and livelihoods and those of our suppliers’ employees – first and foremost the cocoa farmers and their communities.”

RP Siegel is the Executive Director of the Cool Rochester program and the co-author, with Roger Saillant of the acclaimed sustainability thriller, Vapor Trails.

RP Siegel

RP Siegel, author and inventor, shines a powerful light on numerous environmental and technological topics. His work has appeared in Triple Pundit, GreenBiz, Justmeans, CSRWire, Sustainable Brands, PolicyInnovations, Social Earth, 3BL Media, ThomasNet, Huffington Post, Strategy+Business, Mechanical Engineering, and engineering.com among others . He is the co-author, with Roger Saillant, of Vapor Trails, an adventure novel that shows climate change from a human perspective. RP is a professional engineer - a prolific inventor with 52 patents and President of Rain Mountain LLC a an independent product development group. RP recently returned from Abu Dhabi where he traveled as the winner of the 2015 Sustainability Week blogging competition.Contact: bobolink52@gmail.com

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