The beverage industry is not unique in working hard to improve sustainability. Reducing consumption of fossil fuels and water, cutting CO2 emissions and waste, and maximising yield and quality from raw materials are imperatives across industrial sectors.
We sat down with Dr. Mark Schneeberger, Head of Application Development Beverages & Beer, and Dr. Stefan Pecoroni, Vice President Process Technology & Innovation Separation, to talk about the biggest challenges for the beverage industry today and how GEA can help tackling them.
What is the industry’s key issue and driver of change?
Mark Schneeberger: “Sustainability and digitalization without a doubt. Sustainability’s been talked about for a decade and more, but over the last few years, organizations of every size, from the largest multinational beverage companies, down to mid-sized dairies and niche brewers, have transitioned into execution mode, and are exploring how technology can make their processes more sustainable. And that concept of sustainability includes reducing consumption of fossil fuels, cutting greenhouse gas emissions and waste, saving on water and energy use, and looking into things like renewable packaging. Digitalization on the other hand is the key enabler to understand production processes better, not only to improve sustainability, but also to help increase efficiency and yields.”
Let’s talk sustainability first, what factors are driving the beverage industry to look seriously at sustainability? Can you give us an example of an enabling driver of sustainability?
Stefan Pecoroni: “Aside from the pressing need to reduce our use of water, fossil fuels, other non-renewable resources, industry is faced with rapidly increasing costs of just about everything, including raw materials and consumables. One customer I was speaking with recently noted that the value of a tanker of raspberry juice is now on a par with that of a car transporter loaded with sports cars. These raw material costs are really stretching our customers, who need to maximize the yield from all of their ingredients. They must also make the most of consumables such as cleaning chemicals, as well as resources including water and electricity, otherwise the knock-on effect will be even greater price rises for consumers.”
“For some plants in water-stressed geographies, the drive to cut water usage by a very ambitious percentage isn’t just about saving costs, it’s an essential goal that, if not achieved, may lead to plant closures.”Dr. Mark Schneeberger, Head of Application Development Beverages & Beer, GEA
Mark Schneeberger: “It’s not just a matter of cost. One multinational brewery that we have been speaking with acknowledged that for some of its plants in water-stressed geographies, the drive to cut water usage by a very ambitious percentage isn’t just about saving costs, it’s an essential goal that, if not achieved, may lead to plant closures.
Of course there are other factors that are pushing companies to look at sustainable processing. The CO2 tax, which is being applied to varying degrees globally, is motivating industry to reduce its use of fossil fuels, but also to consider how they might use any CO2 that might be unavoidably generated, for example as a by-product of ethanol production. Can we usefully channel that CO2, as feed for algae fermentation, perhaps? This could have the double benefit of reducing CO2 tax, but also resulting in another valuable side product from that algal fermentation.”
Can you give an example of how GEA expertise is being harnessed to achieve sustainability in real world settings?
Mark Schneeberger: “Here at GEA, we have the industry, process, technology and engineering knowhow and expertise, to address these different facets of sustainability individually, and also as a whole. We always start by talking with the customer about the existing business, its operation, and physical setup, and their goals. And because we have in depth knowledge in so many different areas of processing and engineering, we are always looking to develop new hardware and software solutions that push the boundaries.
“It’s important that we learn from and adapt and transfer the projects technologies and solutions applied successfully in one industry, to another.”Dr Stefan Pecoroni, Vice President Process Technology & Innovation Separation, GEA
Mark Schneeberger: “Our groundbreaking project with innocent led to construction of the world’s first carbon neutral juice manufacturing plant. GEA configured and supplied the key process, refrigeration and heat pump technologies for the turnkey innocent site in Rotterdam, which has been dubbed ‘The Blender’. The achievement was a true partnership between GEA and innocent from inception through to completion. We had to think out of the box, consider every part of the process, taking into account the local infrastructure and environment, and pushed technological boundaries. The innocent facility showcases GEA expertise in key energy-saving areas including heat pumps, and refrigeration, for the juice and smoothies sector, but has also demonstrated what can be achieved to customers in other industries, such as breweries and dairies. One of our customers recently told me that they would ideally like to build an “innocent for breweries.”
Stefan Pecoroni: “It’s important that we learn from, adapt and transfer technologies and solutions applied successfully to projects in one industry, to other sectors. For example, how water- and chemical-saving cleaning-in-place systems that may now be considered standard in the brewing and dairy industries, could be adapted for and applied to other areas of the food and beverage sector. Equipment such as centrifuges, for example, are used in many areas of industry, and through one project we are involved in – this is a wastewater treatment plant – we have demonstrated that it’s possible to reduce centrifuge energy consumption by 15-20%. We can learn from this and apply what we’ve learned to other industries. Sustainability can also mean deriving utility from what would traditionally have been considered waste streams, such as spent grains from the brewing industry, which historically have had little value as anything other than animal feed. Today we are developing new processes and technologies that can be used to convert such low value by-products into new revenue streams.”
Let’s talk digitalization, what role does digitalization play for sustainability but also for improving production processes in general?
Mark Schneeberger: “Digitalization is a key enabler, for sure. Rather than just continuing to run processes in the same way that we have for decades, industry is turning to digital systems that can help us to derive insight from what is happening inside the process itself, and indicate how it might be possible to better optimize processes to increase sustainability as well as boost overall efficiency and yields. Intelligent sensors, automation and analytical software are all helping us to understand and better optimize processes. This might mean we can reduce temperature or pressure, or the duration of a processing stage. Even small changes to process parameters that save on energy or water, or reduce waste or increase yields, can have a major overall impact on sustainability and efficiency. GEA InsightPartner and OptiPartner are smart solutions that can not only monitor and provide analysis of processes in the brewing industry, but also make adjustments that will optimize the processes. InsightPartner provides the data and process insight that gives us a much better overview and understanding on how the process is really running, and identifies areas for improving efficiency and reproducibility. Go one step further, and our OptiPartner solution will analyse all this data to effect changes that will optimize the process. Smart software combined with automation work together to fine tune processes, but also to help reduce the need for manual intervention.”
Stefan Pecoroni: “Digitalization has to have a demonstrable value. OptiPartner and InsightPartner are specific software platforms that customers can install to derive insight, and take positive steps that will help to make their processes more efficient and sustainable. But GEA can also now keep the majority of its installed machines accessible, through a cloud connection that gives us remote access to equipment 24/7. Our Service Level Agreements give customers the flexibility to choose a service package that suits their needs. Through these service packages we can carry out condition monitoring, effectively using the machine’s operational data to recognize and alert customers when, for example, a bearing or other component may need changing or is at risk of failure, or maintenance is due. This approach not only increases operational safety, but also the availability of these machines, because you can predict down time for repairs or maintenance, rather than have to deal with unexpected stoppages. Keeping machines in top operating condition also helps to ensure that there is best efficiency with respect to energy and water use, and productivity.”
Stefan Pecoroni: “But this technology holds even more potential for the future: apart from keeping an eye on machine function it offers the possibility to acquire and monitor process data as well. With artificial intelligence you can use this data to adjust process parameters to become more efficient. The customer can then optimize the use of their equipment and fine tune the process to further reduce energy consumption, cut costs, or improve productivity and quality.”
What if a customer is looking to achieve the unachievable?
Mark Schneeberger: “This is where I think GEA excels. We have the expertise and experience in a diverse range of industries. But we also understand that our customers want practical, workable solutions. So, whatever the desired end point – from a new valve, to a heat pump solution, chiller and automation system, or even a complete turnkey plant, as in the innocent project - we will look at each commission, or problem, from its foundation. And by working with the customer to advise, develop, and test components, equipment and processes, we can address each part of the challenge, all the time considering sustainability. Our global test centers exist so that we can work with our customers to test out processes and machines and see how they work in real life setting, as well as to facilitate new developments within GEA.”
Stefan Pecoroni: “And because GEA has all this knowledge in one company, we can also look to develop new solutions where one is not already available, or have a look to see what other options there may be already in the marketplace – it’s not always necessary to reinvent the wheel.”