Frito-Lay Opens “Near Net Zero” Plant in Arizona

solar panels on farmland near Frito-Lay's Casa Grande, AZ plant
solar panels on farmland near Frito-Lay's Casa Grande, AZ plant

Casa Grande, Arizona, is a pleasant city of about 50,000 that is halfway between Phoenix and Tucson.  Like much of Arizona, the town has little water, a lot of sun, and has exploded in population growth–in fact, the number of people living in Casa Grande has doubled in size since 2000.  If any large manufacturing city should achieve “off the grid” status, it would be a food processing facility in Arizona.

Frito-Lay claims that they have almost hit that off-the-grid milestone.  Today, the chip king shows off its renovated Casa Grande facility, which will churn out everything from Doritos to Fritos.  Frito-Lay’s definition of “near net zero” means that the factory will run of mostly renewable energy, operate significantly with recycled water, and will send almost no waste to the landfill.

The plant’s rebirth is the result of newer technologies and updated design.  Here’s how the Frito-Lay plant will run differently from similar food processing plants:

  • Clean energy:  If all goes to plan, five photovoltaic solar fields will produce almost 10 million megawatts of electricity for the plant.  A total of 18,000 solar panels were layered above 36 acres of farmland, and additional panels were installed above a covered parking lot.
  • Water efficiency:  Reuse and atwater recovery systems will combine with high-tech membranes and reverse osmosis technologies to recycle anywhere between 50 and 75 percent of the water that runs through the Casa Grande facility.  In a town that nets about 10 inches of rain annually, the move should avoid any future conflicts with the community over water stewardship–an issue with which companies like Frito-Lay and its parent, PepsiCo, will have to confront in the coming decade.
  • Waste diversion:  The factory already sends less than one percent of its total waste to local landfills–much of the food byproducts end up as cattle feed.  But some of that waste will end up as  . . .
  • Biomass:  A new 60,000 pounds per hour biomass boiler will churn wood and agricultural waste into combustion energy for the steam needed to run the plant–reducing Frito-Lay’s natural gas usage by 80 percent.
  • A new frontier in green building:  Frito-Lay touts the Case Grande facility as becoming the first manufacturing plant anywhere to achieve LEED gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.
potatoes, soon to be washed by recycled water and turned into chips
potatoes, soon to be washed by recycled water and turned into chips

Overall, two-thirds of the plant’s energy will come from renewable energy sources, and will result in an overall decrease in greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent.  With this shift, Frito-Lay will join other large food companies like Kraft and Campbell Soup Company that have been integrating sustainability into their overall strategies.

Leon Kaye is a consultant, writer, and editor of and also contributes to The Guardian Sustainable Business; you can follow him on Twitter.  He lives in Silicon Valley.

Photos courtesy of Frito-Lay.

Read more on Triple Pundit’s coverage of food and farming issues.

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010. He has lived across the U.S., as well as in South Korea, Abu Dhabi and Uruguay. Some of Leon's work can also be found in The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. You can follow him on Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost).

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