It’s amazing to think, in this age of sustainability, that whey used to just be thrown away.
For Glanbia Foods, whey is not only a cash product, as it is for most cheese manufacturers, but it has also made its manufacturing operations nearly water-neutral.
“We’ve got to be thinking about it all the time,” John Lanigan, vice president of cheese operations, says of efforts to save energy and resources. “We challenge our operations and technical services departments to use the latest technology.”
The team has risen to the challenge, as is evidenced by operations at Glanbia’s barrel cheese and whey plant in Gooding, Idaho. The world’s largest barrel cheese facility, it takes in more than 9 million pounds of milk daily. So that’s a heck of a lot of water, from ultrafiltration prior to cheesemaking and the whey that comes off during the process.
The solids are reclaimed, and the water is polished and stored in silos. CIP requires about 300,000 gallons of water, which is also used in plant boilers. Other wastewater is processed in an anerobic treatment plant, then used to irrigate corn and alfalfa grown on 1,200 Glanbia-owned acres surrounding the plant. These crops are fed to patrons’ cows, which keep on sending milk to the plant, thus completing the circle.
“The water we take in as milk equals the amount we use in the plant,” Lanigan says.
The plant takes in enough milk to make 330 million pounds of cheese every year.
Yes, that’s a heck of a lot of water.
CheeseEvery day, more than 200 trucks are unloaded and washed in the plant’s four receiving bays. Enhancements to the system, including pumps on three outlets, allow 70,000 pounds of milk to be unloaded in 12 minutes.
“Most places taking in this much milk would have six bays. We have four,” Lanigan remarks. “We’ve got to be very efficient with these bays.”
Glanbia patrons provide 60% of the milk, the rest coming from cooperatives and all from within the state of Idaho. Patrons’ output ranges from 10,000 to 1 million pounds of milk per day. “We need a tanker of milk every 10 minutes,” Lanigan adds. “We unload 24/7.”
The plant has eight milk silos, the largest of which holds about 580,000 pounds. Total silo capacity is nearly 3.5 million pounds, or just over a third of one day’s cheese make.
When milk leaves the holding silos, it’s concentrated in the milk ultrafiltration system. “The goal is to reduce your flow rate – make more cheese and pump less water,” production manager Micah Robinson explains.
Water is taken out of the milk in the form of permeate, which is sent to the on-site whey plant for further processing. Milk runs through the UF at a rate of about 440,000 pounds of hour and is concentrated to a ratio of 1.35 to 1.45%. After it’s concentrated, the milk is pasteurized. Two HTST pasteurizers run at 350,000 pounds per hour.
From there, it’s on to the cheese vats. There are 12 vats, each with a capacity of 75,000 pounds of UF concentrated milk, the equivalent of 100,000 pounds of non-UF milk. The vats are filled with milk at 88 degrees F; starter and rennet are then added. “On an average day, we’ll run four or five kinds of cheese,” Robinson says, noting that no coloring is added, and each batch is made to specific customer specifications.
“What’s unique about a plant this size is that it’s a DVI [direct vat inoculation] plant,” Lanigan says, while most facilities of similar scale use bulk starter. “We consistently manufacture 90 vats of cheese every day, without having any concerns about starter performance.”
Following cutting and cooking to 102 degrees, curds and whey are stirred, then separated. Vats are turned every 2½ hours.
Fat is recovered from the whey in the whey cream separators; fat is stored in the cream silos and added back into the cheese as needed. After fat removal, the whey is sent to the whey plant for further processing.
This pre-draw of whey allows for a higher pH in the whey, Robinson explains. “It allows us to pump the vat more quickly to our belts and move the cheese faster,” he adds.
Curds and whey continue to separate on the first of three belts in the stirred curd machine. Curds continue to be stirred as they travel along the second belt. Salt is added on the third belt; salt is sent from the salt room via vacuum pumps. Each belt has three vats’ worth of cheese on them at any given time. At nearly 1,000 feet, this belt system is one of the longest in the world.
Curds then fill the cheese towers. Each of the 12 towers holds 1,800 pounds of cheese and fills at a rate of 700 pounds per minute. With full towers, there are 23 vats of cheese in the system at any time – 11 vats on the cheese deck, nine on the belts and three in the towers, totaling 106 tons of cheese. The towers get a new barrel of cheese every 45 seconds, or about 950,000 pounds every 24 hours.
The computer-controlled towers place 500 pounds of cheese into cardboard barrels on receiving carts. Every barrel of cheese goes to the sealer, which vacuums out the air and heat-seals the container.
Barrels are weighed and labeled, then taken to the warehouse where they’re banded four to a pallet on a new machine, installed within the past six months and racked to await shipment. The cold warehouse – made up of five sections that were built in stages as the plant expanded – can hold up to 7 million pounds of cheese.
Cheese normally ships either within 24 hours or up to six days after manufacturing. “It’s all driven by the customer,” Robinson says. “Some want the character of fresh cheese and will use it within 24 hours.”
Once loaded with cheese, outgoing trucks are sealed to ensure product safety. Glanbia’s own trucks deliver within a 200-mile radius, with same-day service available. “These barrels can actually be a slice of process cheese the day they’re made,” Lanigan says, noting one particular major customer’s process cheese plant is about three hours away. “It could be a finished product within six hours of it coming off the line here.”
The cheese side also features an R&D pilot plant, with a small vat, table and separator. “R&D and Technical Services works on this a couple of days a week,” Lanigan says. “It replicates what happens out there in the production area on a small scale.”
WheyThe first step in the Gooding whey process sends the whey through the first of two reverse osmosis systems, which removes the water. Whey then travels to an ultrafiltration unit, in which a membrane process splits the whey into protein and lactose. The second RO system removes water from the lactose stream after the product leaves the UF unit.
The control room monitors all fluid movement in and out of the silos and runs all whey equipment. Legal charts are kept here, and plant-wide security cameras can be accessed at each computer terminal. “Everything that happens in the whey plant funnels through here,” says whey plant manager Kelly Johnston.
Whey protein flows from the UF to the whey protein concentrate evaporator. The evaporator uses vacuum, steam and mechanical vapor compression to pasteurize the product, as well as remove more water to prepare it for drying. The lactose evaporator works in the same manner but is fed from the second RO unit. The evaporator pasteurizes and prepares lactose for cooling.
The lactose evaporator clarifier removes calcium from the permeate to be sent to a sister plant in Richfield, Idaho, for making Trucal, a milk mineral product.
Lactose from the evaporator is sent to cool in the crystallizers. Then the decanters remove water and many of the impurities from the product after it’s crystallized. The high-mineral byproduct is sold to local farmers.
The product then travels to the refiner, which uses a cascading system in the final step that removes more impurities from the product. Two basket centrifuges are used to remove water added at the refiner during the purification process. Then the product goes to the dryer, which finishes turning the liquid product into powder.
After the product is dried, it is stored in four powder bins, each of which holds up to 165,000 pounds. Lactose and WPC are packaged in totes of up to 2,200 pounds each or 50-pound to 25-kilogram bags.
Water, water everywhereThe operations team at Gooding manages to squeeze every last drop of utility out of precious liquid resources.
Warm whey is pumped through looped tubing to warm raw milk by heat transfer prior to pasteurization, yielding some energy savings, whey operations director Carl Garcia explains. In the calcium system, outgoing hot permeate is used to heat the incoming cool permeate, Johnston notes. Further, gas generated by the anerobic wastewater treatment plant, built three years ago, is used to heat water used for cleaning. Polished water is used in the plant’s boilers, saving energy because it’s warmer than the well water used until two years ago; the plant’s use of well water is down 50 percent from last year. As such, the Gooding plant has eased its strain on the local water and sanitary infrastructure.
Meanwhile, milk haulers are using a new, lighter tanker truck that carries a bit less milk per load but gets better gas mileage. “With hundreds of thousands of miles, it’s about a half-mile per gallon – a lot of savings,” Lanigan says, noting that Glanbia’s transportation department, encompassing 34 trucks, is based in Gooding. “We’ve got to continue this. The biggest challenge to the industry is energy costs.”
It’s a challenge to the Glanbia work force as well. The company subsidizes gasoline expenses for its employees on a sliding scale based on how far they drive to work, and also pays people to carpool.
Glanbia remains conscious of the pressures on all aspects of its operations, including mechanical and human resources. Its efforts to ease industry’s strain on the environment and save money while doing so has been win-win, perhaps most evident its crop program for patron farmers.
“We get the milk and the cycle starts again,” Lanigan says. “That is the essence of sustainability – and it’s good economics.”
ExtrasThe following are among Glanbia Foods’ suppliers:
CPS Tetra Pak (Scherping)
At a Glance: Glanbia FoodsLocation: Gooding, Idaho
Year opened: Built in the 1980s as a meat-packing plant; rebuilt for cheese in 1991.
Size: Cheese, 117,000 square feet; whey, 50,000 square feet.
Number of employees: 97 cheese, 57 whey.
Products made: American-style barrel cheese; lactose (Avonlac), WPC 34 (Thermax), liquid calcium (TruCal), Lactoferrin.
Total processing capacity: 9.4 million pounds of milk daily, 330 million pounds of cheese annually; 10 million pounds of raw whey per day.
Pasteurization: Two HTST @ 350,000 pounds per hour of ultrafiltrated milk.
Cheese production: 12 vats @ 75,000 pounds, stirred curd machine, 1,000-foot salting belt, 12 towers @ 1,800 pounds.
Whey production: Two reverse osmosis systems, whey UF, calcium UF, two polishers, WPC and lactose evaporators, lactose evaporator/clarifier, lactose dryer, WPC dryer.
Storage capacity: Eight milk silos totaling 3.45 million pounds; cheese storage 7 million pounds.