The best solution sometimes means using what you already have. That’s a key driver behind GEA’s approach to helping customers in the food, beverage and dairy processing industries lower their energy consumption, minimize their operating costs and reduce their carbon footprint.

According to the UN, energy efficiency offers a potential 40 percent of the emission reductions required to help meet global climate goals. An intensive energy user, industry is facing increased regulation and is under tremendous pressure to reduce its CO2 footprint and become more efficient. The good news: GEA Sustainable Energy Solutions (SEnS) experts are helping diverse customers around the world to do just that.

Building on a strong foundation

GEA equipment and plants are known for their durability and efficiency, for which we’re proud; but we’re not resting on our laurels. We’re constantly working to drive down energy usage and maximize plant efficiency, one machine at a time, as part of our commitment to sustainable value creation and our guiding principle of “engineering for a better world.”

As part of production, particularly in the food processing, dairy and beverage sectors, refrigeration, which includes both heating and cooling, plays a critical role. GEA refrigeration solutions, which are themselves highly energy efficient, all use compressor technology based on ammonia, a natural refrigerant. Unlike hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), ammonia is readily available, inexpensive and has a minimal environmental impact. Increased legislation calling for the phasing out of HFCs, is making it imperative for customers to switch to natural refrigerants, like ammonia; the EU, for example, gave itself a target in 2019 to cut f-gas emissions by two-thirds by 2030.

A combined strategy to improve energy efficiency of cooling equipment while phasing down HFC refrigerants … presents one of the biggest mitigation opportunities available today.”
- United Nations Environment Programme, International Energy Agency, 2019

GEA SEnS: a sensible approach for a positive future

While some improvement in plant efficiency, maybe 2 to 4 percent, can be achieved in small, incremental steps, such as looking at a specific piece of equipment or a step in the process, the largest gains come from examining plants holistically, across the entire process chain. GEA has developed a structured and proven approach which involves analyzing the customer’s precise energy requirements, making optimizations and including utilities in the equation – connecting heat pump technology to manufacturing processes to ensure energy is moving circularly, rather than being wasted.

Each GEA SEnS project includes a single point of contact for customers, backed up by a cross-functional engineering team with experts from dairy, food or beverage processing, as required, as well as team members with refrigeration (heating & cooling) expertise in diverse processing industries. Supported by GEA sales and service experts, SEnS customers receive a holistic process analysis and proposal for a more sustainable and integrated process solution leveraging GEA and GEA partner products. Each project considers the customer’s business parameters and ambitions, formulated as measurable KPIs, against which the installation must deliver.

If you look at the food, beverage and dairy sectors, they’re all basically produced inside a massive refrigerator and anything that goes on in there generates warmth, or heat. And heat is energy.”
- Robert Unsworth, Technical Sales Director, GEA Refrigeration UK

Our GEA SEnS teams can accommodate both solution designs and enhancements depending on whether the situation is a green- or brownfield site, and provide:

  • a mapped overview of all process streams, determining cooling and heating needs per stream
  • calculate ROI and total life cycle benefits, effect on TCO and reduction of CO2 emissions
  • define required cooling and heating, applying a multi temperature approach to drive energy efficiency
  • identify and integrate the appropriate heat pump solution for reusing heat

Heat is heat, whether it’s -40 or +140 Celsius

Cooling and heating traditionally account for anywhere between 50 and 90 percent of a plant’s entire energy consumption. This normally includes both waste heat flows (e.g., wastewater, hot humid air, condenser heat from refrigeration systems) and heat consumers (e.g., process water, central heating systems, blanchers, dryers, etc.). As a result, nearly every food, beverage or dairy processing plant can benefit from integrating a GEA heat pump, given their ability to take waste heat and boost (or cool) it for reuse in other production processes.

Heat pumps have been used in homes and in district heating since the early 1980s, however, their integration in food processing is more recent, thanks in no small part to advances in GEA heat pump technology which can now achieve temperatures up to 90 degrees Celsius. “The food, dairy and beverage industries are actually the main drivers for heat pump developments as they require higher temperatures for their processes,” explains Kenneth Hoffmann, Product Manager Heat Pumps, GEA Refrigeration Technologies. “In nearly all cases,” says Hoffmann, “customers who install a GEA heat pump can eliminate some, if not all, of their gas-fired boilers, typically used for heating water. This automatically boosts energy-savings and lowers CO2 emissions significantly, and even more so if green energy sources are utilized.” While this step requires more capital investment, the payback time is short, given operating costs are greatly reduced.

GEA’s global SEnS credentials

GEA’s unique SEnS offering is a culmination of our broad portfolio and industry know-how, combined with our ability to connect this with our refrigeration expertise. In fact, GEA has decades of experience helping customers improve the efficiency of their plants, however, now we’ve made it even easier for customers by providing an integrated offering via a single point of contact.

Liquid dairy processing, Ireland

For Ireland’s second largest liquid milk processor, Aurivo, tight margins and a desire to increase capacity while improving their ecological footprint were the inspiration for updating their Killygordon site in 2019. The integrated upgrade includes new liquid processing systems, as well as state-of-the-art energy-saving refrigeration and heat recovery heat pump solutions from GEA. As a result, Aurivo has lowered its CO2 emissions at this site by 80 percent, increased hourly milk processing capacity by around 80 percent and achieved operational savings of more than €150,000 annually. While a green supplier for electricity was already in place, the project helped Aurivo reduce its energy usage overall, largely by minimizing their reliance on fossil fuel-fed water boilers. This was made possible via the integration of a GEA heat pump system, which reclaims and channels excess heat from the new cooling plant to heat water for the milk pasteurization process.

Heat pump system

“We didn’t just provide a heat pump,” explains Hoffmann, “we optimized the pasteurizer to suit the heat pump application for the Aurivo site. And, we focused on offering a complete solution, not just individual parts, so that our technologies would help reduce waste, energy consumption and use of fossil fuels, while increasing capacity. This facility is now one of the most sustainable dairy plants in Ireland – in fact, the project was awarded a prestigious “Excellence in Energy Efficiency Design (EXEED) Certification” from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland,” states Hoffmann.

Dairy processing, the Netherlands

For a greenfield mozzarella production facility in Europe, our GEA SEnS team provided the winning analysis and design for a new plant requiring gas-free production. Based on a study of the entire process – from ingredients to final cheese – which included a 24-hour graph calculating energy consumption throughout and mapping the heating and cooling going into the process, as well as out, GEA then developed a proposal for a more sustainable and integrated process solution leveraging GEA heat pump technology. As a result, waste heat from the cooling plant is reused and upgraded to meet warm and hot water process needs, with up to 80 percent of the heating demand covered by upgraded waste heat. The plant’s carbon footprint is reduced by roughly 2,700 tons per year, with operating expenditure on utilities also reduced by 500k euros per year.

Customers of all sizes choose GEA as their partner because we’re able to think big with them. We’re making it possible for them to deliver on their mission to reduce water and energy consumption and eliminate waste in their plants – even achieve carbon-neutral manufacturing.”
- Colm O’Gorman, Non-Alcoholic Beverages Development, GEA

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