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Nestlé Pretoria plant pilots AI tech for CO2 reduction



Nestlé East and Southern Africa Region (ESAR) has demonstrated an industrial-scale pilot project using a global-first, artificial intelligence technology to reduce emissions and save water. The project, at its Babelegi factory in Pretoria, is a partnership with The Emissions Capture Company (ECCO), using its WhiteBox technology, a machine-learning system that captures Scope 1 carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and recycles wastewater.

“Our global commitment to reduce our impact on the environment influences every part of our business today,” says Saint-Francis Tohlang, corporate communications and public affairs director at Nestlé ESAR. “This partnership with ECCO demonstrates a significant evolution of our production processes to embrace circular principles at every step. We are extremely proud to be pioneering this industry-first technology on the African continent. This success takes us to the next phase, where we will be looking to scale this operation to other factories to deliver significant reductions in Scope 1 emissions in ESAR.”

The WhiteBox set-up in Babelegi has been in successful operation for over 8,000 hours.  The technology captures CO2 from flue gas emissions, recycles industrial wastewater and creates sustainable green products. The green products can be sold directly (for animal feed, human food, consumer goods, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals) or used to eliminate sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions without the need for water. Data collected from the industrial scale pilot coupled with industry-first machine learning techniques, demonstrates that the WhiteBox can be calibrated to capture between 25% to 70% of Scope 1 CO2 emissions and recycle available industrial wastewater per site. Much of this is done through direct air capture and energy-efficient gas processing, using low-fuel consumption methods.

This partnership helps pave the way for a green economy,” says ECCO CEO Thomas F Darden. “Our approach was holistic, ensuring that pollution remediation was key, along with other considerations such as water recycling and low fuel consumption. By design, the shift from legacy technologies to low carbon emission processes also improves livelihoods through employment creation, training, and upskilling,” 

Says Tohlang: “The industrial-scale pilot project directly upskilled and employed 15 people from the local community and has the potential to create more jobs when scaled. Part of the operation has also included skills development for the rest of our staff at the facility to ensure a just transition to low emission operations, with no one left behind.”

ECCO’s WhiteBox joins several ongoing long-term projects under Nestlé’s RE sustainability initiative, which reinforces the company’s sustainability initiatives, strategies as well as its resources to help mitigate sustainability challenges such as waste reduction.

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