GALLERY: Behind the scenes at Ben & Jerry's new biodigester

Ben & Jerry's has become the first ice cream company in the world to power its factory using its own ice cream. Edie took a trip to the company's European factory in the Netherlands to take a closer look at 'The Chunkinator'.

Making scoops, closing loops: Edie visited the Ben & Jerry's factory in the Netherlands

Making scoops, closing loops: Edie visited the Ben & Jerry's factory in the Netherlands

The Biopaq AFR Biodigester is Ben & Jerry's latest sustainability project at its creation station in Hellendorn. The innovative contraption converts wasted milk, cream, syrups and pieces of fruit from the production process into energy - which currently covers 50% of the factory's yearly power requirements. (Scroll down for gallery).

"By piloting innovative technology like the biodigester and linking it to other technologies we can help to ensure a more secure energy supply now and in the future," explains factory manager Casper Louw. "Our goal is to reduce waste at the source, first. Then, recognizing that there always a waste stream from production, what is the best way to use it in a productive manner?

"The biodigester gives Ben & Jerry's the opportunity to take what had been a waste and turn it into a benefit for our business - producing our own energy."

How it works...

Having completed one year of testing and a year and half of trial runs, the bidoigester is now able to utilise all of the waste water produced at the factory to good use, and about half of the litres of waste ice cream - from Karamel Sutra to Phish Food, The Chunkinator has so far powered over 16 million pints of Ben & Jerry's ice cream since its launch.

Around 15m3 of excess ice cream chunks are fed into the tank every hour, where natural micro-organisms break down the particles, turning them into biogas. The system is also fed waste water - which is created as a bi-product of cleaning the ice cream factory - at a rate of 6m3 an hour.

Biogas from the machine is passed to Ben & Jerry's new GreEnergy heat conversion system, where a separate tank act as a 'battery'; insulating water at the correct temperatures for ice cream creation, dramatically reducing the need for natural gas to heat the plant. 

"We are currently feeding the biodigester more and more, so that in the future it will be able to convert all of our waste ice cream to energy," adds Louw.

GALLERY: Ben & Jerry's Biodigester

Ben & Jerry's use anaerobic digestion as one element part of its environmental commitments. Earlier today (27 June), edie reported that the company is stepping up its efforts to reduce CO2 emissions with a move towards 'carbon insetting' to improve supply chain resilience and resource efficiency.

Luke Nicholls


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