Dusseldorf When you reach the village of Waldenbuch in the district of Böblingen, the smell of chocolate fills your nostrils. The chocolate manufacturer Ritter Sport employs 1,000 of its 1,900 employees worldwide here, around half of them in chocolate production. They work in three shifts, the machines run 24 hours a day and can produce more than three million bars a day.
But the delicate melt of chocolate has a bitter CO2 footprint. This is due to the fact that the cocoa required for this comes from Nicaragua or Ghana or the Ivory Coast. According to calculations by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research in Heidelberg on behalf of the Federal Environment Agency, a 100-gram bar causes an average of 410 grams of CO2. There – and not only there – there is potential for savings.
The important thing, according to the family company founded in 1912, is to save energy at every possible point in chocolate production. At Ritter Sport, the topic of sustainability began with the reactor catastrophe in the Ukraine in 1986. After the Chernobyl disaster, majority shareholder Alfred Ritter could no longer find any untreated hazelnuts, relied on his own plantations and rethought. The company now also cultivates its own cocoa in Nicaragua.
Production in Germany has been climate-neutral since 2019, “since 2020 we have been able to call ourselves a climate-neutral company according to the GHG Protocol,” explains Asmus Wolff, who is responsible for the supply chain and energy in the management board. The non-reducible emissions are compensated for via Gold Standard certificates.
The next step should be complete climate neutrality, which will be worked out with the raw material suppliers along the entire supply chain. The latest decarbonization target: 42 percent emissions reduction by 2030 according to the Science Based Targets initiative, which validated the company’s targets. The goal: energy savings of 1.5 percent per year compared to the previous year. The first step to doing this: measurements.
Production monitoring should have been standard for a long time – but it isn’t
“Thousands of measuring points come together in our factories,” says Asmus Wolff. The data from the measuring points would be brought together in central systems. “Then artificial intelligence will now also be used in addition to one’s own intelligence,” says Wolff. Today, you can immediately find out where energy is being wasted.
Sensors are used to continuously measure vibrations, heat generation and noise levels in the systems, for example. This makes it possible to predict where problems could arise in the future. In this way, one can “intervene proactively” before waste occurs.
At Ritter Sport there is also a small team as part of the energy and building management whose task it is to identify energy thieves. The team records new successes every week, says Wolff.
Dietmar Gründig heads the Industry, Mobility and Energy Efficiency department at the German Energy Agency Dena. He says: A measuring effort like that at Ritter Sport should be standard in companies – but in many cases it is not yet. At least, however, we are on the right track: the expert says that digital measurement systems are already tapping considerable potential for efficiency. And that “with the help of many small measures, sometimes with low investments.”
At Ritter Sport, as in many production companies, the factories have been built over decades: there are machines that were purchased in 1950, explains Asmus Wolff, but there are also machines from the 2020s. With modern technology, but also with new know-how, the company can act on the basis of the measurement. “Today we understand even better how to make chocolate perfectly,” says the manager. “For example, how to optimize the stirring parameters without jeopardizing internal quality requirements.”
In concrete terms, this means that there is an optimal rhythm for stirring for each of the very different machines in the different parts of production. In order to achieve the same level of quality everywhere, you have to set very different stirring intervals based on the measurement results.
76 percent less power when stirring
That’s what they did at Ritter Sport – and it was worth it. Around 140 containers could be optimized in this way, each machine now has the optimal stirring intervals for the chocolate and filling masses. The result: 76 percent less electricity is now required for stirring. That corresponds to more than 900,000 kilowatt hours per year. The decisive factor here is the effort with which the raw mass is heated.
When the cocoa mass and butter arrive at the factories, the raw materials are first mixed with sugar and, if necessary, milk powder. Rollers ensure that their consistency becomes finer. To do this, the chocolate manufacturer’s machines first need a temperature of 50 degrees.
When the chocolate goes through the production process, it needs to be comparatively liquid, which again requires heat. The chocolate gets its creaminess in the conches, i.e. machines that move and stir at the same time. This requires a working temperature of 60 degrees. Finally, in order to bring the chocolate into its final form, it has to be cooled – in the case of filled chocolates, this cooling has to be repeated once more before the filling is put in. The challenge: using as little energy as possible for stirring, heating and cooling in all these processes.
At Ritter Sport, the energy itself comes from regenerative sources. Since 2002 we have been producing exclusively with green electricity. There are photovoltaic systems on the roof of the warehouse and 15 years ago a combined heat and power system was installed, which allows you to generate energy and heat at the same time. The company also has a combined heat and power plant. It is scheduled to be phased out by 2025.
Heat and electricity will then be provided by several heat pumps, which in turn will be supplied with electricity by the company’s own solar and wind power plants. One part of the electrical energy could then produce 3.5 parts of heat or cool, so the total energy demand of production would decrease dramatically. This is a huge advantage of heat pump technology, says Asmus Wolff.
The truck fleet became electric
But the biggest source of energy loss at Ritter Sport is the compressed air. It is conducted through the entire plant via countless pipes. “There are losses through friction or leaks,” says Wolff. “Unlike with water, you don’t see it.” Most companies have “a theme” here. The compressed air is an important lever, says Dietmar Gründig from Dena: measures on the compressed air are highly efficient because it is a valuable and expensive source of energy.
Series: This is how Germany saves
In addition to saving energy in production, at the beginning of the year Ritter Sport converted its own fleet of trucks for transporting goods between plants and warehouses to electric vehicles. “This saves us up to 500 tons of CO2,” says Asmus Wolff.
With all the measures, it is surprising that the family company’s carbon footprint has increased from 2021 to 2022. According to Wolff, the reason is that since 2022 the milk powder has been rated higher than before when measuring the CO2 footprint. That changes the balance sheets without the company having emitted more CO2, says Wolff. “For me, the most important thing is what we’ve really improved in reality.”
More: How Ago Energie revolutionized the industry for industrial heat pumps – and thus saves electricity