The Heidelberg aquifer, which supplies spring water for Coca Cola’s bottled water label, Valpré, should be sustain- able ‘forever’, provided the company sticks to its water licence agreement and historical yearly rainfall levels continue.
Quality assurance manager for the Gauteng plant Mike Jacobs maintains that while the plant is licensed to extract 180-million litres a year of water from the aquifer, it currently only extracts around 90-million litres a year.
Moreover, only around 8% of the current mean rainfall levels are required to ensure the source’s longevity, considering the plant’s current extraction volumes.
The sustainability of the water supply should also go some way towards assuring the plant’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification, an internationally recognised programme for benchmarking the design, construction and operation of green buildings.
For accreditation, a building must accumulate points based on the number of energy-saving measures implemented, such as specialised roof insulation, energy efficient lighting and overall environmental impact.
“We monitor our energy use very carefully, and have not just met, but exceeded, our energy targets in the last eight months of production. We also use rainwater harvesting techniques, and optimise sunlight for both light and heating,” says Jacobs.
Meanwhile, any excess water in the system is recycled and used to cool the production line, after which it undergoes reed bed filtration before settling in an on-site dam.
Prior to being bottled, the water from three production boreholes linking the plant to the source undergoes extensive analytical and micro- bial testing to ensure consistency and adherence to regulations. It then undergoes a filtration process, but nothing is added or removed from it before it is bottled and, as a result, the water maintains its original mineral composition.
To preserve the integrity of the product, the bottling area is a completely closed, sanitised area and is maintained at a positive air pressure to prevent the movement of dust. The two engineers required to manage the system enter and exit through an ‘air shower’ area, which uses ionised air to remove impurities.
“The air quality is on par with that of a surgical theatre, and is Class 100 000,” says Jacobs.
Once filled, each bottle receives a drop of liquid nitrogen, which transforms into nitrogen gas and fills the remaining headspace. This prevents deformation of the bottle at varying altitudes, ensures microstability of the water and ensures shelf life. It is then capped and packaged.
The ‘PlantBottle’ used by Valpré is fully recyclable and contains no fossil fuels, with 30% of the bottle made up of Brazilian sugar cane, further driving the plant’s zero-to-landfill operational imperative.
Last year, Engineering News reported the installation of a 30 kW, R1.6-million solar photo- voltaic system at the Heidelberg facility, which feeds into Coca Cola’s internal grid and supplements its power requirements with solar energy, thus reducing its reliance on the national grid.