Meet the 100: Kraig Westerbeek, Senior Director of Smithfield Renewables with Smithfield Foods

by | Sep 6, 2019

The E+E 100 are the VPs, directors, managers and engineers who are making significant strides in driving our industry. See the complete list here or download the report for more detailed information about these leaders. And stay tuned for the Call for Submissions coming in the fall, when you can nominate your favorite sustainability or energy management professional!

Now, meet Kraig Westerbeek, senior director of Smithfield Renewables with Smithfield Foods. Smithfield Renewables was formed in 2017 as a platform to help the world’s largest pork processor and hog producer cut carbon and advance renewable energy. Westerbeek notes that in 2016 Smithfield became the first major protein company to announce a greenhouse gas emissions goal, targeting a 25% reduction by 2025.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced in the last year or two?

Our biggest challenge is how to realize the full energy value of manure when faced with clusters of farms. Farms are generally in the same general area but not necessarily connected. It’s very difficult to make the manure energy projects work because the farms are too small. So we’re trying to find ways to connect our farms in a way that makes sense.

How have you addressed that challenge?

You can either move the manure or move the energy. We’ve determined that transporting biogas from manure digesters rather than transporting manure is the best way to provide the economies of scale necessary to make manure-to-energy projects work.

We’re connecting farms with biogas-gathering pipelines, and that allows us to leverage the more capital-intensive parts of these projects, which are the biogas cleaning and pipeline injection.

What advice would you give other professionals as they try to accomplish their sustainability or energy management goals?

To make projects work, you’ve got to challenge traditional project structure. As it relates to manure energy projects, it’s essential that projects create a solution that is mutually beneficial to all that are involved. You can’t just have projects that are beneficial to investors. They also have to be beneficial to farmers.

I’ve been strongly encouraged with some of the markets for the renewable energy that’s being produced. We’re focused on renewable natural gas because it has a lot of markets. Pay attention to the markets because they have gotten to a point that makes these projects work.

We’ve got a really big project in Central Utah. In that particular valley, we’re putting new farms in, and there are approximately 200 to 300 huge wind turbines. Most of them are 2–3 MW turbines. There is also about 300 acres of solar farms, and on the side of the hill there is a geothermal plant. When you sit on top of the ridge and look at that valley it’s amazing to see all the renewable energy production taking place.

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