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Moses Lake

A harried mom drives her hybrid SUV into the garage, unlocks the door to a house heated by solar panels and natural gas, opens the sleek freezer for a bag of Tater Gems, pours them into a non-stick pan and slides it into an energy-efficient oven.

It happens every day, and it is a quiet triumph of progress and technology.

However, the real marvel of efficiency and modernity in that story is not the car, or the garage, or the solar panels, or the freezer or even the quick-warming oven that cleans itself.

No, the most remarkable testament to sustainability may be those humble Tater Gems.

Sustainability and reducing energy usage may be in vogue now, but it’s engrained into agriculture. That’s why Simplot looks far beyond simply reducing energy usage to examine how to reduce energy intensity.

In other words, how can the Company be more efficient for every product coming out of a Simplot facility?

Across the street from the Simplot plant in Moses Lake is Eka Chemical, where bleach for paper manufacturing is made in part by separating oxygen from hydrogen.

The hydrogen is considered waste by the Eka plant, but it presents an opportunity for Simplot.

“We have agreed to buy their hydrogen and have an ongoing contract with them that has been in effect since before 2000,” said Don Sturtevant, director of energy at Simplot. “They get value for their waste-stream and the hydrogen saves us on natural gas. Also, when you burn hydrogen (2H2 + O2) the emissions become water vapor which is very environmentally friendly.”

In the most recent fiscal year, hydrogen made up a full third of the fuel used in the facility’s burner. Simplot buys that fuel at a fraction of the cost it would spend on natural gas, saving the company hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

It’s just part of the larger sustainability picture at Moses Lake. The plant recycles its water by irrigating an alfalfa field on a 1,400-acre farm nearby. And the plant is producing more of its own energy now thanks to what’s called an “anaerobic digester.”

Natural, biodegradable material settles to the bottom of ponds used in the manufacturing process at the plant. That material is fed to microbes and gas is produced as a byproduct. The gas is captured and burned by the plant to reduce its need for energy off the public grid.

The same process is used at Simplot plants in Portage la Prairie and Aberdeen, and will come on-line in Grand Forks as well as in the new factory scheduled to open in Caldwell in 2014.