The conversation: “Preventing waste - to me, that’s the essence”

25 January 2022

Nick Major in conversation with Stan Raben, Engineering & Projects Director

The production of feed is an energy-consuming process. The right measures will therefore allow for a great deal to be gained where sustainability is concerned. ForFarmers’ international OPS platform plays a major role in this. So how do they tackle this? What are the ambitions? And what has already been realised? Nick Major discussed this with Stan Raben, the Engineering & Projects Director and member of the OPS platform.

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Nick Major (l.) from the UK talking to Stan Raben in the Netherlands.

Being careful with your belongings

Nick: “What does sustainability mean to you?”
Stan: “Being careful with your belongings and not unnecessarily wasting things or food. That's how I was raised and that's what I'm trying to convey in my own family now too. I think that's the essence of sustainability. After all, you can certainly produce something very sustainably, but if a large part of the product is then ultimately wasted, you will actually have gained very little, or even nothing at all.”

The ultimate place for exchanging knowledge and ideas

Nick: “Then the question which many readers are now undoubtedly asking themselves: what is the OPS platform?”
Stan: “This is an international group of colleagues who are responsible for Operations and the Group Supply Chain within ForFarmers. We conduct extensive meetings with this platform once every two months, during which all kinds of Operations and Supply Chain issues are discussed. The intention is to inform each other, learn from each other, help each other to resolve any possible problems and to generally enhance the Operations and Supply Chain’s performance and reduce costs. We also have a brief one hour update call every month in addition to these meetings, making sure we always know what’s going on and stay focussed.”
Nick: “What role does sustainability play during these meetings?”
Stan: “Sustainability is now a regular topic. Quite logical of course, as this has now become increasingly important for both society and ForFarmers. A great deal of energy is needed for the production of feed. We will really be able to make a difference if we can reduce that energy consumption and make it more sustainable. The platform is obviously the ultimate place for exchanging knowledge and ideas, making sure applications which work well in one specific location are also taken up in other countries, so you won't need to reinvent the wheel each and every time.”

Energy saving and sustainability

Nick: “And how does this affect Engineering & Projects in practical terms?”
Stan: “Our main task has always been to ensure all investments in the feed mills are prepared in an effective and timely manner and subsequently safely realised. That hasn’t changed, but the sustainability component has been added to this. We are always looking for opportunities to save as much energy as possible within production, for example with more efficient production processes and machines. We are simultaneously also working on making our energy consumption more sustainable by making more and more use of renewable energy sources like solar energy, wood chips and biogas, to name but a few.”
Nick: “This mainly affects the Operations part of the platform. How do the other business units within the platform contribute to making our production process more sustainable?”
Stan: “Our colleagues from Nutrition & Innovation, Purchasing and Formulation are, for example, opting for more sustainable raw materials and are also working on ways to reduce feed conversion. This allows us to reduce the entire food chain’s CO2 footprint. They have adapted certain recipes too, resulting in the pressing of a good quality pellet now requiring less energy. Concepts are also being developed for which the feed no longer needs to be pressed at all, which naturally makes a huge difference. But our colleagues can tell you a great deal more about that than I can.”
Nick: “I understand. This has also been addressed during previous conversations, for example with Rosemarijn Gerritsen from the NIC.”

Concrete and ambitious goals for 2025

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Biomass power station in Lochem

Nick: “Back to Operations: what is your ultimate goal?
Stan: “Our objectives are included in the 2025 Build to Grow strategy, which was launched in the autumn of 2020. Our longer term ambition is to emit an impressive 75% less CO2 per tonne of end product by 2030 compared to 2015. We have also defined three short-term hard objectives, i.e. to be realised by 2025. 1: our largest feed mill in Lochem must be completely CO2 neutral by then. 2: across the whole of the Operations department – i.e. production plus outbound logistics in all five countries we’re active in – energy consumption per tonne of end product must be reduced by 10% compared to 2019. And 3: 50% of the energy we’re still using in 2025 must come from renewable sources.”
Nick: “These are very concrete, but certainly also very ambitious goals! Can you give an example of a project which is specifically focussed on this?”
Stan: “A very important project we realised three years ago is, of course, the biomass installation in Lochem. This power station is used to burn local wood chips which have been released during regular forest and landscape maintenance – so it is waste. We use the released heat to fire up the steam boiler which produces the steam with which the feed is pressed into pellets. This power station allows us to reduce this location’s fossil natural gas consumption by approximately 90%.”
Nick: “That sounds impressive!”
Stan: "Indeed. We are unfortunately not yet able to achieve that, as we’re currently still suffering from too many technical issues. But we’re working hard to achieve that 90%. And in the meantime it’s certainly a good learning opportunity for future projects.”

Switching from coal to natural gas in Poland

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Solar panels on two sheds in Lochem

Nick: “Do you have an example from one of the other countries?”
Stan: “We have invested in 'cogeneration’ in Poland, also referred to as CHP. This means we generate our own electricity with a gas engine and we heat the steam boiler with the heat which is subsequently generated. We’ve also replaced the coal used for fuel in Biskupice with natural gas. All in all, this results in a CO2 saving of approximately 30%.”
Nick: “Isn’t it quite remarkable that the switch to natural gas in Poland has contributed to more sustainable production, while we’re actually trying to reduce natural gas consumption in the Netherlands?”
Stan: “Well, that’s obviously all about the starting position. Natural gas isn't ideal, but it’s certainly a huge improvement if it replaces coal.”

Nick: “And how far have we actually progressed with solar panels at our production sites?”
Stan: “There are already almost 3,000 solar panels on the head office roof and on two sheds in Lochem. Together they’re good for approximately 805,000 kWh of solar power per year. We’re working on this at various other locations too. Although the solar panels’ contribution only represents a few percent, every little bit most definitely helps. We’re also looking at direct and virtual links with external solar parks, which may enable us to realise savings of several tens of percent.”

The perfect example of circularity

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Manure digester on a farm

Nick: “If you had to pick one project which really stands out for you, which one would that be?”
Stan: “I won’t need to think too long about that one: the collaboration with the 'Oxe Provides Gas’ cooperative, which we recently entered into. This is an initiative set up by five dairy farmers in Oxe, a hamlet near Deventer. The farmers have a manure digester on their own property – or are now investing in one – and use this to produce biogas with the fresh manure from their stables. ForFarmers purchases this biogas and uses it to generate steam in the feed mill in Deventer. We replace 400,000 m3 of natural gas with biogas on an annual basis, which is approximately 85% of the Deventer location’s annual consumption.”
Nick: “That sounds like a nice and, above all, sustainable deal.”
Stan: “It’s the perfect example of circularity; I think that's the beauty of it: the farmers buy feed from ForFarmers and feed it to their livestock, the manure produced is fermented on their own property and the biogas released is transported to ForFarmers, which then uses this to generate steam to produce new compound feed. The digestate which remains in the digester is used as fertiliser by the farmers on their own land. Although this isn’t a major technical investment project for us, it was very nice to sit down together – with the dairy farmers and their advisor on the one hand and our colleagues from energy purchasing and legal affairs on the other – and, despite the different interests, be able to put together a very nice contract which both parties are happy with.”