Q&A with Dean Frommelt
Division environmental manager, Corn Processing
How has ADM’s commitment to environmental stewardship evolved since you joined the company 14 years ago?
Back when I started, it was simply about making sure colleagues in the plant complied with the permit requirements. Today, there is a much greater level of awareness and sensitivity throughout our entire organization about the environmental impact of our operations. Colleagues at ADM are looking far beyond the basics of what we’re required to do; they’re being much more proactive. Not long ago, I received an email from a plant manager asking whether the installation of a certain type of solar panel might help us to reduce carbon emissions at that facility. I don’t think I would have gotten a question about alternative energy 10 years ago. There’s really been a cultural shift within the company.
What’s driving that sensitivity and awareness?
We’ve done a very good job as an organization educating colleagues about the company’s requirements from an environmental standpoint. And now, The ADM Way (a series of statements encompassing the company’s purpose, vision, strategy, priorities and values, introduced in 2010) has really focused everyone’s attention even more sharply on doing business the right way. It’s fostered a careful thought process when it comes to the environment and sustainability.
Another piece that’s driving a lot of this interest among our colleagues is the fact that doing the right thing for the environment really has the potential to bring value back to the company. Environmental initiatives can provide opportunities for cost savings, which helps drive shareholder value. For example, we installed an anaerobic wastewater treatment process at our Decatur, Illinois, plant complex. Wastewater is now treated using an energy-efficient process that produces a biogas fuel we use instead of natural gas in the corn plant, which is quite cost-effective. So there are economic reasons for focusing on environmental stewardship, as well.
What will our processing operations need to do to achieve the stated goal of reducing energy and emissions on a per-unit-of-production basis?
Energy efficiency and reducing emissions at our plants go hand-in-hand. And because our corn processing operations have made great progress in cutting energy use — about a 41 percent reduction in the last 10 years — the reality is that a lot of the low-hanging fruit is gone. In addition, while our overall grind has increased, there’s been a steady downward trend in emissions — about a 70 percent reduction since 2002 — due to a large number of emissions-reduction projects completed recently.
All of this means we need to investigate more thoroughly what we can do to make further improvements. A lot of our opportunities will involve changes in process ― examining how we can optimize certain pieces of equipment or current operating parameters. It will be important that, as colleagues come to work each day, they’re thinking about how to achieve optimal operating conditions and sharing ideas that can help us improve energy efficiency.
We’ll also continue to review replacement of certain older equipment with newer and more energy-efficient alternatives, and to consider installing add-on emissions-control devices to existing equipment. We’ve reduced emissions of volatile organic compounds at our U.S. plants by more than 80 percent since 2003, largely as a result of installing regenerative thermal oxidizers on equipment at several corn plants. We’ve also replaced older feed and gluten dryers, carbon furnaces and boilers with more efficient units at some of our largest Midwest U.S. facilities. This combination of process improvements and optimization, coupled with significant capital projects in certain instances, is what will allow us to reach our goal.
What other kinds of efforts do you see driving progress?
We’re being aggressive in developing and rolling out both a global Environmental Management System and an accompanying Environmental Management Information System that will inform our plant-management teams of how they’re doing at meeting our environmental targets and key performance indicators. While our teams realize that these systems require additional work to manage effectively, they also see the benefits. We began the EMS development process by performing a thorough review of the overall environmental impacts of our operations. We look at issues not just from a regulatory perspective, but also holistically, by considering how our operations actually interact with the environment. Based in part on this review, we’re establishing goals and metrics to drive continuous improvement.
The ultimate goal is to run our operations efficiently, with as minimal an impact on the environment as possible. We grind corn to fulfill our purpose and deliver shareholder value; my focus is on doing it in compliance with all regulations governing our business, and in an environmentally responsible way — the right way.
Our plants drive the success of these initiatives. Within the corn processing group, we take these efforts very seriously, as our plants account for a significant percentage of ADM’s overall energy usage, water usage and emissions. As these facilities have taken ownership of our environmental performance, I believe we’re seeing — and will continue to see — important progress.
Dean Frommelt joined ADM in 1997. Today, he is responsible for the environmental performance of ADM’s Corn Processing business unit.
Frommelt began his career at ADM as an environmental coordinator at the company’s corn processing facility in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and has also served as a regional environmental manager. Prior to joining ADM, he was an air pollution control specialist for the Linn County (Iowa) Health Department’s Air Quality Division and, earlier in his career, he was an engineering technician for Rockwell International’s Advanced Operations Engineering Division. He holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from Mount Mercy College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.