Merck KGaA to power India plant with coconut and cashew shells

The massive energy needs of drug manufacturing have prompted some drugmakers to find ways to cut consumption and the carbon dioxide emissions that go with it. Next year, Merck KGaA plans to start a biomass heating plant in the U.S., but for now is starting on a project in India that will use cashew and coconut shells, recycling a local waste product into biomass fuel.

Merck is building the 3-megawatt plant to power a manufacturing facility in Goa, India. The €3 million ($3.7 million) power plant will be independent of India's power grid. It will reduce the manufacturing site's carbon dioxide emissions by about 11,500 metric tons, the company said, which amounts to an 85% cut from current levels. The plant, which is about 45 kilometers from Panaji, the capital of Goa, manufactures vitamins, chemicals and microbiological products and has about 300 employees, the company said.

Merck KGaA Chairman Karl-Ludwig Kley

"Our biomass plant shows the potential of corporate responsibility projects: the company, the environment and society benefit in equal measure," Merck KGaA Chairman Karl-Ludwig Kley said in a statement today.

The drugmaker has been involved in a number of projects to cut its greenhouse emissions at operations throughout the world. It has a €27 million ($36.3 million) cogeneration project underway at its headquarters and manufacturing operations in Darmstadt, Germany. The company is building two power plants there that it says will provide cooling, power, compressed air and heat for its facilities. It will use natural gas for 70% of its energy production, up from 60% currently. The plants are expected to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by about 2,500 metric tons. Merck intends to start on biomass heating plant for its Jaffrey, NH, facilities in 2015.

Most drugmakers now have new operations designed with energy efficiency in mind, using water recycling and solar energy design to reduce power needs. They sometimes build with renewable materials. Amgen ($AMGN) has opened a continuous manufacturing plant in Singapore which is much smaller than a conventional facility and will use less water and power. GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) also has a continuous processing plant underway in Singapore. The U.K. drugmaker had also hoped to provide some of the power needs for a new operation in Scotland from wind turbines, but the community rejected the 425-foot units as unsightly.

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