Water reuse from potato chips - not half-baked

Image: Kelly Sikkema, Unsplash

Food and drink corporation PepsiCo has developed a method for recovering more than half of the water used in its potato chip - or crisps if you're in the UK - manufacturing lines.

Potatoes are 80% water, and frying them releases that water as steam. The company’s research and develop team has successfully proven it can capture and condense the steam evaporated from its fryers and clean it to safe drinking water standards.

That water can then be reused to wash new potatoes as they arrive from the farm and power other processes at the plant, such as air conditioning and refrigeration. The energy recovered from the condensation can also be used for other manufacturing purposes, such as cooling part of the plant or converting it to electricity, reducing the plant's energy needs.

PepsiCo has fully implemented the recovery technology at its facility in Kolkata, India, where the proof-of-concept showed the approach could save around 60 million litres of water a year. Over the next seven years, the technology is expected to be adopted at nearly 30 potato chip manufacturing plants in high-water-risk areas.

Writing about the innovation in an online blog, PepsiCo senior director, global R&D, Eric Willman said: “PepsiCo sources billions of pounds of potatoes per year to satisfy demand for what is arguably the world’s most popular snack. And all those potatoes - which are harvested from the soil - need to be washed before they’re peeled and cooked.

"What’s more, the internal composition of a potato is about 20% starch and 80% water. And once a chip meets hot oil, almost all that water is released, in the form of steam, which rises above the fryer and floats up and away. Forever.

“What if we could coax the steam to reverse its commute, stick around, and make itself useful? That’s exactly what we did.

"India was a great place to test drive the new technology, as the country is not only one of the world’s top potato producers, but also faces high water risk."

"Once a chip meets hot oil, water is released, in the form of steam, which rises above the fryer and floats up and away. What if we could coax the steam to reverse its commute?"

Eric Willman, PepsiCo

PepsiCo’s vast range of food and drink products stretches into the thousands and includes Lay’s crisps, Doritos, Cheetos, Quaker and Pepsi-Cola. Its products are consumed more than one billion times a day in more than 200 countries.

The company is aiming to become net water positive by 2030.