Juices and smoothies – they are among our favorite thirst-quenchers at any time of day, and a great way to stay hydrated. Whether we are taking a break from work, getting that exercise fix or just relaxing with a book, reaching for one of our go-to taste-tempters is second nature. Supermarket shelves and fridges today offer a huge range of fruit and vegetable drinks for health-conscious consumers.

Despite a truly global diversity of ingredients and recipes, many of the fundamental manufacturing steps for juices and smoothies will be the same, whether the final product is a global household brand, or a locally produced regional specialty. These common stages typically include handling and storage of fruit, vegetables and other ingredients, refrigeration, heat treatment (pasteurization), and blending and mixing to a set recipe, before packaging the final product into bottles, cans or other containers. Optimum hygiene and safety are critical at every stage, so there’s a lot of water and energy needed for pasteurization and refrigeration, as well as for cleaning the equipment.

Carbon-neutral smoothie manufacturing site

Carbon neutral juices

In a groundbreaking initiative that could change the way that some of our foods and drinks are manufactured in the future, smoothie and juice drinks manufacturer, innocent, has selected GEA as one of its key technology partners for the design and construction of a carbon-neutral juice manufacturing plant, sited in the Port of Rotterdam, the Netherlands. innocent is investing $250 million (€232 million) in the large-scale facility, which it is calling the blender, and which will produce about 400 million bottles of chilled juice every year. The site is likely to open some time during mid-2021, and will manufacture about 60% of innocent’s bottles. From Rotterdam, innocent will supply the European market.

No fossil fuels? No problem

innocent claims this one manufacturing plant will effectively allow the company to cut its overall carbon footprint by 10%, and reduce road miles by about 25% – siting the blender at the Rotterdam port means that ingredients don’t have to travel too far when they arrive. The new plant aims to rely on 100% renewable energy, without needing to burn any fossil fuels on site. But the ultimate goal is not just centred on reducing carbon footprint, it’s about creating a truly sustainable manufacturing plant that uses as little water and energy as possible, reduces, reuses and recycles waste, and provides a fantastic working environment for the 190 or so staff who will be recruited. 

To design, build and operate the plant innocent has teamed up with like-minded partners who share that vision of creating a planet-friendly, human- friendly factory. As the process and utilities partner for the project, GEA will supply equipment and processes for steps including the receipt and handling of raw materials, through batch mixing and pasteurization. GEA will also contribute resource-saving cleaning-in-place, refrigeration, and automation technologies, which will play an integral role in helping to dramatically cut water use and overall energy demand, reduce waste streams and minimize product loss. State-of-the-art process control technologies from GEA will in addition take unnecessary pressures off the human workforce by automatically monitoring and controlling key process parameters.  

Sustainability Monitoring

Reducing carbon footprint

From GEA’s perspective, achieving carbon neutrality at the innocent facility will hinge on minimizing how much energy the plant consumes for processing, and that means making sure that energy isn’t wasted. The new plant exploit smart GEA technologies for directly and indirectly recovering energy from one part of the process and channelling it to other parts of the plant. This will cut overall energy requirements and help to reduce that carbon footprint.

Think about refrigeration, for example. Even the most efficient cooling systems generate heat that is often just wasted. Using clever indirect energy recovery technologies, this energy can now be collected and redirected to other processes, say, to heat the water that is used for product pasteurization. GEA heat pump systems that carry out heat recycling are so efficient that it’s possible to completely do away with fossil fuel-burning boilers that are commonly used today in the beverage industry. “The utilisation of heat pumps means heat generation can be provided by waste heat with minimal additional electrical power, which if provided sustainably removes the burning of fuel and therefore drops the carbon emissions to zero,” commented Robert Unsworth, GEA Utilities Manager.

A great place to work

We are going a step further by designing the plant to suit the optimum refrigeration configuration, thereby achieving the best possible energy profile for the operating plant, added Franz-Josef Helms, GEA Engineering Manager for the project. “Using our knowledge of the product and technologies, we can optimise the pasteurization process such that the energy recovered is optimized,” continued Henning Lossie, GEA Process Design and Project Manager. The plant layout and process control system make the day-to-day experiences of the operating team more enjoyable, while at the same time providing the key data that enable the plant to be run as efficiently as possible.”

GEA technologies also feature advanced clean-in-place (CIP) systems for cleaning and sanitising core process equipment, which are a critical part of plant maintenance. GEA is working with Netherlands-based project partner, Fluidor, to integrate the latter’s innovative FluiVac water mist technology into CIP plants, which will reduce the use of water and the loss of CIP chemical. This all adds up to less waste and resource use.

The array of features, which are designed to help to reduce the loss of raw materials and product, cut water and chemicals consumption and maximize direct energy recovery, which takes the plant design to a new level in terms of carbon footprint, further commented Colm O’Gorman, Head of Sales & Offer Management. Tailoring the plant design to the products and forecasted product sales means that we can measure and predict the carbon footprint for different operating modes, which is valuable information for our customer.

Sam Woollett, Engineering and Facilities Lead for innocent, added, “Our company’s core mission is to develop ambitious goals and tackle things with an open mind. GEA was right on target with its fresh ideas and is delivering what’s important to us.”

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