July 01, 2021  

How Lay’s chips will be heating homes in Belgium

A community was searching for a way to sustainably heat its homes, and a PepsiCo snacks plant in Veurne provided a solution — that starts with a potato.

When Laurens Vandecasteele was looking for a new home in 2020, the Suikerpark neighborhood in Veurne, Belgium topped his list. He was drawn to its modern architecture, lush community gardens and winding bike paths. Plus, the parklike space was just five minutes from the PepsiCo snack foods plant in Veurne, where Vandecasteele works as Frontline Manager.

“The houses are on the site of a former sugar factory where my father worked for almost 42 years,” Vandecasteele says. “I like the connection to my past.”

Vandecasteele’s new home also has a tie to his present — Lay’s potato chips will soon be the source of its heat. “It’s nice to know that your own company has created a solution to heat your home,” he says.

Suikerpark is part of an innovative project that repurposes heat from PepsiCo’s snacks plant and transforms it into sustainable energy. The Veurne site cooks up to 20 tons of potatoes an hour, releasing heat vapors as a byproduct. When real estate developer Ion wanted to find inventive environmental solutions for Suikerpark, PepsiCo proposed an idea: What if some of the heat released during the process of making chips could be put to use? With the help of partners Noven, who designed the technology, and Fluvius, the area’s utility grid operator, PepsiCo is making it happen.

“Using a condenser, we capture the vapors from cooking and heat a water circuit from 50°C up to 80°C,” explains Frank De Clercq, Maintenance and Sustainability Manager at the Veurne snacks plant. From there, the heated water will be transported to the houses at Suikerpark, where it will flow through the central heating system into radiators and hot water taps. The first homes will be warmed with the technology starting in 2022. The project will heat a total of 500 houses using clean, sustainable energy once it’s complete.

PepsiCo has set targets to cut carbon emissions by more than 40% by 2030 (against a 2015 baseline) and achieve net zero emissions by 2040. The company has undertaken several ambitious projects to reach this goal; the Veurne project is yet another step. “The heat generated at the Veurne plant helps reach net zero emissions and replaces heat that would normally be sourced by burning natural gas,” De Clercq explains.

And if the mayor of Veurne has his way, Suikerpark is just the beginning. “Suikerpark is the opportunity of a lifetime,” says Peter Roose. “This is a great project to introduce new concepts that can be brought to the rest of Veurne.” As the technology develops, there is potential to expand the system to the local hospital and other public buildings in the future. The Veurne plant could potentially heat more than 2,000 homes.

“This heat network on the scale of a neighborhood is unique,” Roose says. “With this partnership, we’re realizing big things for our citizens while setting an example for the rest of the country.”

Veurne resident Vandecasteele echoes that sentiment. While he is excited about the potential this heat project has to benefit his own home, Vandecasteele also thinks about the bigger picture. "I want to show respect for nature and the community by taking care of the environment,” he says. “When it comes to achieving climate goals, we all have to act.”