FRANCE – French dairy giant Lactalis, in collaboration with renewable heat supplier Newheat, has inaugurated what is hailed as “the largest solar thermal power plant in France.”

The project, covering an expansive 15,000 m², is set to supply heat to Lactalis’ Verdun dairy factory for the next quarter-century.

Anticipated to cut the CO2 emissions of the site’s drying tower by 2000 tons annually, equivalent to 7% of the total emissions, the initiative marks a pivotal stride in the widespread adoption of solar heat for food and beverage applications.

With heat production constituting 45% of France’s final energy needs, and a majority being supplied by fossil fuels, decarbonizing heat is paramount in the nation’s broader strategy for energy independence.

Lactalis’ move to embrace solar thermal energy reflects a commitment to reducing its energy footprint and contributing to the national goal of transitioning away from traditional energy sources.

Jean-Luc Bordeau, Managing Director of the Ingredients division at Lactalis, emphasized the significance of continuing their transformation by focusing on reducing the energy footprint after the major renovations of the Verdun site and the inauguration of the new drying tower in 2021.

The Lactalis site at Verdun converts liquid whey, a cheese-making by-product, into whey powder for the food industry, with an annual production capacity of 75,000 tons.

The Lactosol solar thermal power plant, designed by Newheat, is France’s largest solar thermal power plant catering to an industrial site and the second largest in Europe.

The plant, equipped with a 3,000 m² storage tank, ensures uninterrupted heat supply even during nighttime or cloudy days.

The innovative solution is expected to reduce the site’s gas consumption by 6%, corresponding to 11% of the drying tower’s total consumption, resulting in a significant decrease of 2000 tons in CO2 emissions annually.

Hugues Defreville, President, and Co-founder of Newheat expressed optimism that Lactalis, as a global leader in dairy products, will inspire other manufacturers to adopt solar energy for their decarbonization projects.

Looking ahead, Lactalis plans to further enhance the sustainability of its Verdun site by installing a biomass boiler between now and 2026, aiming to replace nearly 50% of gas consumption with renewable energy.

According to the company, the initiative aligns with the broader trend in the industry, as manufacturers increasingly turn to renewable resources to power their facilities and bolster their environmental sustainability efforts.