One small step, one giant contribution

This is the story of the “earth’s favourite little healthy drinks factory” which shows that a successful business can also help people and the planet live well. Once upon a time a manufacturer had a big dream of commissioning a sustainable net-zero operation by spring 2022. Dubbed the blender, the factory would be our client innocent’s new juice and smoothie production plant. A place where not only the earth’s most wonderful smoothies would be blended but also where the smartest people would combine to create smart teams, including some of GEA’s own process, heating and refrigeration experts.

Referring to its new juice production facility at the Port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands as “earth’s favourite little healthy drinks factory” may just be innocent’s way of modestly taking its place in the greater scheme of things without backing down on its bold ambitions. In fact, going forward, the plant is producing up to 300 million liters of chilled juices and smoothies yearly destined for continental Europe and the UK. And that’s to say nothing of its significance as a shining example for other companies to learn from and replicate, which will far exceed its footprint. Because innocent knows that every drop of water it conserves, every ton of carbon dioxide it eliminates, every kilowatt-hour of energy it saves and every kilogram of waste it reduces adds up to a remarkable contribution.

The true art of engineering

GEA’s experts are backing innocent’s big dreams all the way, doing their utmost to help make them come true. In their joint project work with innocent’s design team, they have proven that efficient and reliable process design is more than the sum of machine and component parts on the factory floor. That’s because the true art of engineering is what’s behind it – and ideally what comes before it. And it’s this expertise that ensures processes are set up to make manufacturing truly sustainable.

It is not often that customers bring GEA on board so early in the process that it’s possible to go back to the drawing board on many of the finer points. Fortunately, this is exactly what happened with innocent’s blender project. It meant that the little drinks can play a big role in realizing the drinks maker’s dreams of achieving carbon neutrality. To that end, the amount of greenhouse gas released during the production of each bottle was raked over with a fine-tooth comb.

“Giving the planet a seat at the factory design table”
Welcome to blender town

This project is a melting pot of people unafraid to engage in open-ended debate, face the clash of different perspectives, revise plans and spur each other on to find new solutions. “We want to give our planet a seat at the factory design table,” says innocent’s Andy Joynson. As the former Site Director, or chief blender as they like to say at innocent, he is responsible for this groundbreaking project. Together with his crew, he has checked that every planning step is green. Only solutions that reduce carbon-dioxide emissions and water consumption and treat waste as a resource make the cut.

Our Ying and Yang

The key to solving the energy cascade is understanding how all the multifaceted details form the big picture or zooming out from the micro to the macro perspective. Franz-Josef Helms, who is overseeing the project’s process side, puts the GEA philosophy in a nutshell: “We don’t shy away from digging into details and evaluating each operational step with a view to its impact on all the subsequent steps. Every decision has multidimensional knock-on effects. From the beginning with innocent and their team, we challenged and felt challenged to push boundaries. As the concept design grew with our ideas, our team kept adapting – and making it happen.” It takes considerable experience and skill from many partners to come together to achieve such a groundbreaking plant design. But with GEA at its side, innocent has a partner that does not shrink from that kind of a challenge.

"Using the latest technologies available, we can design plants that go to the very edge of what is possible in terms of sustainability."

Franz-Josef Helms

Head of Engineering, Non-Alcoholic Beverages, GEA

This way makes sense

Robert Unsworth is one of the GEA heating and refrigeration experts who rounded out the innocent project’s design team with their focus on GEA NEXUS Holistic Engineering Solutions. Thanks to this approach, heating and cooling requirements are factored into the process right at the planning stage, instead of after the fact, as is usually the case. As Unsworth explains, that latter approach is a terrible waste of potential. While optimizing individual plant components or process steps in isolation delivers incremental efficiency gains, you need to look at the big picture to make substantial improvements in energy usage and carbon footprint. 

“By combining process skills with heating and cooling expertise, you can move the needle on improvement beyond half a percentage point here or there. Individual measures, such as replacing a particular component or adjusting a parameter, won’t deliver real results,” says Unsworth.

"Thanks to NEXUS we can reduce energy consumption and operating costs by 30 percent or more, while slashing CO₂ and NOₓ emissions by up to 90 percent. If the facility uses green electricity, it’s even possible to achieve carbon neutrality. That is exactly the route innocent is taking.”

Robert Unsworth

Global Technical Sustainability Manager, GEA Heating & Refrigeration Technologies

So exactly what levers are the GEA and innocent working group pulling to ensure the blender operates as a carbon-neutral facility powered by renewable energy? During the planning process, four sub-tasks emerged that will help innocent reduce energy consumption, recycle and reuse it as well as regeneratively produce its own power. You could say it’s an energy story in four acts.

GEA Engineer
Chapter one: lowering energy consumption

The one thing no food or beverage processing facility can do without is heating. It’s essential for cooking, sterilizing and preserving. The other side of the coin is cooling to reduce the temperature of heat-processed products, conserving flavor, nutrient and vitamin content as well as texture. Since heat is energy, it is important to assess the need for it at each processing step and make considered adjustments accordingly. By working hand in hand GEA experts succeeded in minimizing the need for heating and cooling in many areas. The upshot is a remarkable reduction in the energy requirements for the plant as a whole.

For example, the pasteurization temperatures can be lowered from 95°C to 90°C – improving the energy balance by three percent. This makes it possible to fit a heat pump and thaw frozen juices with warm water instead of steam. GEA advised innocent to use two separate heating circuits – one set to 65°C for cleaning and the other to 90°C for pasteurization and sterilization. What’s more, innocent will only cool the juices as much as is absolutely necessary because every degree that the mercury doesn’t need to fall improves energy efficiency by no fewer than four percent.    

Before innocent embarked on all these changes, GEA conducted thorough tests: “We needed to be sure that the technology is capable of delivering on quality standards despite the adjusted heat requirements. And the answer is a resounding yes. For instance, we pasteurize at a lower temperature to fit in heat pumps. In food processing, this is nothing short of a feat of daring,” says Helms. These small tweaks do change the entire outlook.

Chapter two: reusing energy

In chapter two of this story, GEA identified how energy used at certain points in the process can be recycled in order to minimize heat losses. innocent will use a more energy-efficient pasteurizer, with a larger surface area of the heat exchanger. Another practical solution is heating water for cleaning with the waste heat from the air compressors. GEA had to minimize the amount of steam to an extent that green energy fed electric steam generator could be used. “Traditionally, all heat is provided above 100°C using steam as a medium in beverage production,” Unsworth says. “But we called that into question. Now only a fraction of the heat is requiring steam, which is used for sterilization.”

"By exploiting the heat exchanger principle to maximum effect, we made incredible gains in reuse and limiting the huge amount of energy wasted on unused steam."

Andy Joynson

Former Chief Blender, innocent

Chapter three: upcycling energy
Chapter three: upcycling energy

We all know about upcycling our household waste by reusing and repurposing it. But how does it work with energy? The solution is heat pumps, the heroes in the third chapter of innocent’s energy optimization story. With their help, the energy used in juice production – specifically the waste heat from the cooling system – can be recirculated in a closed loop. In GEA’s design for innocent, it will be situated at the junction between the 65°C and 90°C temperature circuits. Wherever heating processes require temperatures above 100°C, electric boilers raise the temperature. Just like heat pumps, these, too, require energy to operate.

What sounds like a fairy-tale ending to the design process has nothing to do with magic. These are the rewards not only of laying the process steps and parameters bare but also spurring each other on to new and better things. Both GEA and innocent have benefited from calling convention into question. While innocent wants a climate-neutral factory, it is under no illusion about industrial production’s energy requirements.

GEA Heat pumps at Innocent
Chapter four: independent green energy generation

That brings us to chapter four and innocent’s decision to generate its own energy using solar panels and large wind turbines to the north and south of the site. The company felt it was important not to encroach on local utility supplies or expend grid capacity. Instead, the blender will be self-sufficient, with the workforce creating everything it needs for production.

In a sneak peek at what the future holds, Andy Joynson explains how the factory’s location at the Port of Rotterdam means that innocent beverages will no longer travel many kilometers by road – thereby eliminating tons of greenhouse gases. Since orange juice still needs to be transported over land, innocent works on loading it onto a fleet of the world’s first 50-tons gross, zero-emissions electric trucks – one day.

Chapter four: independent green energy generation
Saving water with lemons and more outside-the-box thinking

Reducing carbon dioxide emissions calls for commitment. To ensure the blender was designed to be truly sustainable, GEA also applied its micro-macro approach to water consumption and waste generation in juice production. According to Franz-Josef Helms, whose team probed every single step of this process, too: “We made the biggest dent in consumption with an unusual CIP system that minimizes the required cleaning surface area but also leverages pioneering technology from Fluidor to clean pipes with an air tornado instead of water. Adapting the Fluivac system allows innocent to recover 98 percent of the juice from the process piping.”   

An example of sustainability thinking Helms highlights is “the use of lemon juice rather than water as a natural seal flushing liquid, because the low pH value prevents bacterial growth.” By installing condensers, innocent will consume 45 percent less water than was estimated in the original design study. GEA went a step further with the Fluivac system by adapting it to the GEA CIP system. The combination of both reduces water consumption dramatically. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

GEA CIP Innocent
Inspiring wider change

Andy Joynson says with a twinkle in his eye, “I take my hat off to GEA because they have been at our side throughout this journey and helped challenge conventional design approaches. All the little details add up to a great success . ”

GEA Grasso 2-stage screw compressor units in the refrigeration plant room of Wipasz

Winning gold for smart heat pump design

GEA and innocent drinks have jointly won gold in the People's Choice Award of the European Heat Pump Association (EHPA) for the intelligent heat pump design in the for the new juice factory “The Blender” in the Netherlands. Every year, the EHPA recognizes the most efficient and sustainable heat pump solutions with the Heat Pump Award. The audience was impressed by how the partners integrated the latest technology and the process, heating and cooling requirements right from the start – and developed a forward-looking production design: avoiding waste of energy and closing the loop. Congratulations to the entire team! #HPA2021 #sustainability #carbonneutral #NEXUS
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