LESA, Bever: No-one is too small to be an environmental pioneer

With its 13 employees and a milk volume of some 5.5 million kilograms, Lataria Engiadinaisa SA (LESA) in Bever is one of the Emmi Group's smaller production facilities. However, when it comes to sustainability, this Graubünden-based operation punches above its weight.

Not only is LESA Europe's highest dairy (1,706 metres above sea level), it is also one of the most progressive when it comes to environmental issues. As far back as 2003, the facility, which is owned by Emmi (80%) and the farmers of the Engadine (20%), came up with the idea of using the process of organic decomposition in whey for energy production. The 4 million kilograms of whey now produce 88,000 cubic metres of biogas every year, which is converted into 280,000 kilowatt hours of electricity.

Possibility of high temperatures

In recent months, the production facility in Bever has started generating additional energy from the sun. As part of a pilot project, the municipal electricity company Elektrizitätswerk der Stadt Zürich (ewz) is generating steam from concave solar collectors on LESA's roof. The steam is fed straight into LESA's grid. It is quite something that this is even possible. Up to now, solar energy was not a possibility in milk processing, as conventional flat and tubular collectors were not able to deliver the required temperatures of between 100 and 300° Celsius. However, the latest generation of high-temperature solar panels, such as those now in use in Bever and from June also in Saignelegier, make this possible. The reflectors have a special aluminium coating and align themselves to follow the path of the sun every ten seconds. This enables the solar radiation to be exploited to the full.

The solar collectors in Bever produce around 60 megawatt hours of steam per year from natural solar energy rather than fossil fuels, which equates to an annual reduction in CO2 emissions of around 18 tonnes.

Solar installation at the Fromagerie de Saignelégier put into operation

As part of an Open Day held on 20 October 2012, a further solar installation was put into operation on the flat roof of Switzerland's largest Tête-de-Moine-AOC cheese dairy in Saignelégier in the canton of Jura. 17 solar panel series capture solar energy on an area of 630 square metres. The heat generated from the solar process is fed into the existing hot water system, where it replaces 30,000 litres of heating oil every year, thereby avoiding 79 tonnes of carbon emissions.