Q&A with Michelle Bublitz
Division environmental manager, U.S. Oilseeds Processing
What were some of the business unit’s most notable accomplishments in 2011 in energy and emissions?
Our global oilseeds crushing and refining organization reduced its energy use 4 percent during each of the past two years, which led to a total savings of about 1 million megawatt hours, as well as reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
Another important point to note is that, at our U.S. locations, we’ve been able to achieve a 20 percent reduction from 2002 levels in hexane emissions through process refinements and improvements to our solvent-recovery systems. Hexane is a common solvent used worldwide in the processing of soybeans and other oilseeds, so reducing hexane loss reduces our emissions of volatile organic compounds, which helps us reduce our environmental footprint.
What sorts of projects have led to the solvent-loss ratio improvement at U.S. operations?
One important project involved our Decatur East soybean crush plant. Starting in 2004, the East Plant installed a new type of desolventizing equipment on three product lines. As a result, we realized a 67 percent decrease in solvent loss at that facility while producing better-quality products. And because this plant had been responsible for about 22 percent of our total U.S. solvent loss at that time, these installations made a big difference in our overall performance in that area.
But capital upgrades are only one piece of the overall picture. Our engineers evaluate energy- and emission-reduction opportunities on a continuous basis, looking for projects and processes to implement at their locations. They evaluate design and performance of all critical equipment on an ongoing basis. They may decide to adjust process conditions based on seasonal variability, or invest capital in new desolventizing or heat-exchange equipment in order to operate the process at a higher efficiency.
In a general sense, how are our oilseeds plants working to reduce energy use and emissions day-to-day? What are our plant managers doing to help improve our overall environmental profile?
We’re constantly monitoring and documenting emissions of particulates, volatile organic compounds and other substances to improve environmental performance and demonstrate compliance. We have environmental plans for each of our plants that set forth goals and specific action steps to be taken, and our managers and engineers consider these every day as they work to run their operations as efficiently as possible. In addition, the Environmental Management System we are implementing globally will enable them to continually improve their environmental performance.
How are our U.S. Oilseeds operations working to help advance the development of the global EMS?
In April 2011, we put together a team of colleagues consisting of three regional operations managers, several environmental professionals from various plants in the division, and me. This team is writing a division manual of environmental procedures and templates. We’re also drafting examples of standard operating procedures and training exercises that our plants can use to ensure colleagues receive necessary EMS training.
Our cottonseed plants are taking these draft materials and using them to write their plant-specific EMS manuals. Their feedback on the drafts will be used to refine the final EMS manual before it’s rolled out to all U.S. Oilseeds locations.
What is your role in this equation?
My job is to make sure our operations are as environmentally sound as they can be, and that comes down to giving our plant colleagues the tools they need to understand what their environmental requirements are, to fully understand their permits, and to determine how they might go beyond what they’re required to do by law to minimize the impact of their operations on the environment. I work collaboratively with our plant managers to help them do what’s right both for the business and for the environment. That’s really my role, to work as part of an overall team that strives to continually improve our environmental performance.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Michigan in 1992, Michelle Bublitz began her career as a staff environmental engineer for FMC Corporation, a Philadelphia-based chemical manufacturer specializing in agricultural and industrial applications. Two years later, she joined ADM as an environmental engineer, and was promoted to her current position in 2002. Today, she oversees the environmental performance of all 60 ADM U.S. Oilseeds Processing operations.