It is impossible to open a newspaper or switch on a television nowadays without seeing news or a report about sustainability, global warming or CO2 reductions. The ever-growing global population is putting pressure on the food industry – a massive user of energy - to come up with new solutions to increase production, that will not only help feed the world’s population but do so without further impacting on the planet. But are such solutions attainable or just “pie in the sky”? Paul Ryan, who is leading the GEA SEnS team, tells us how GEA’s Sustainable Energy Solutions (SEnS) can genuinely help food processing plants to reduce energy footprint and running costs whilst also improving productivity.

Why can the food industry especially benefit from SEnS?

Paul Ryan: The food industry is traditionally one of the highest energy users throughout the supply chain – from agriculture, through processing, transport, handling and ultimately storage and retail. Just considering processing, heat production and chilling account for approximately 60% of energy costs, and in some cases even more, so reducing these costs is a huge driver for food processors. GEA’s SEnS approach revolutionizes the integration of process and utilities (cooling and heating) to drive down energy consumption, reduce carbon footprint and slash costs across multiple food industry sectors.

What level of savings can be achieved?

Sustainability and value creation go hand in hand with SEnS
Sustainability and value creation go hand in hand with SEnS

PR: By pooling GEA’s extensive expertise in both processing and utilities, SEnS can make a difference to food companies, designing tailor-made solutions that can optimize efficiency, while meeting increasing energy reduction challenges. Implementing energy efficient cooling and heating solutions early in the design phase of the entire food factory enables a food manufacturer or processor to potentially reduce energy usage and operating costs by 30 percent and cut CO2 and NOx emissions by up to 90 percent – CO2 emissions can even be reduced to zero if "green electricity" is used.

We are not talking about just a few percentage points: these are real, significant outcomes available to food companies throughout the manufacturing process made possible by implementing energy efficient heating and cooling solutions. GEA already works with global brands that want to see tangible benefits and, ultimately, an improvement to the bottom line.

What’s so important about connecting process and utilities?

Sustainable plant with GEA's Sustainable Energy Solutions
Sustainable plant with GEA's Sustainable Energy Solutions

PR: Carbon-neutral manufacturing is the ultimate goal but how can this be achieved? The answer is: we work collectively, bringing process and utilities people together, and by understanding that a holistic approach using the integrated skills and knowledge within GEA brings far more significant benefits in terms of reduced costs and emissions. It’s not about heat pumps for waste heat recovery or cooling as an add-on: SEnS is an in-depth analysis of the entire process in conjunction with utilities – leading to implementation of an optimized and sustainable processing solution.

Why is early co-operation and co-ordination key?

PR: It’s all about the smart integration between the process demands and cooling and heating requirements. Traditionally the refrigeration experts - or let’s now start calling them the cooling and heating experts, because that’s what we are - are normally the last part of the equation. The process equipment has been purchased, utilities which incorporates the boilers are also agreed….and then somewhere down the line they realize they need cooling. By then it’s too late! If we have the opportunity to sit with the process team at the beginning, and of course we have the unique advantage of being able to do this within GEA, then we can look at the full process, and by taking this holistic view we can make real savings.

So what other types of food applications could make SEnS? Does it need to be a greenfield project?

PR: Our SEnS holistic approach works for any application in any size of project. It doesn’t matter whether you have a greenfield or brownfield project, or whether you need a certain temperature to blanch vegetables or another to defeather chickens.

SEnS make sense for all food applications
SEnS make sense for all food applications

The majority of food processing applications require refrigeration at some point in the process, but they also have significant heat requirements for operations like wash down and Cleaning in Place (CIP). Some of the highest heat demands are for processes using boilers to cook or pasteurise products. These products are then cooled back down again by a refrigeration plant, and the result can be a massive waste of energy. 

In such a situation, a heat pump can raise the temperature of the waste heat up to 90⁰C so that it can be returned to the process in a circular fashion. Reusing this waste energy reduces the heat required from other sources, typically a fossil fuel driven boiler – which in many situations can eventually be phased out entirely – and this significantly improves the efficiency and sustainability of the complete process.

Could you give us a real-life example of SEnS for the food industry?

PR: Here‘s one great example of GEA’s SEnS team at work for Wipasz SA, one of the largest Polish animal feed producers and leader in the production of fresh chicken meat. For its newly launched poultry plant in Poland, the company was seeking solutions to make the production more sustainable and energy efficient.

Poultry factories such as Wipasz see the significant financial and environmental benefits of using heat recovery and a heat pump in production processes, especially those that require the application of heat during preparation and subsequent chilling and freezing. They invited our refrigeration colleagues in GEA Refrigeration Poland to join their early plant design phase, so the heating and cooling integration with production process could be optimized in the best way for the whole processing plant. In this way we learn from each other and work together to drive for a more energy-efficient and future-proofed production plant.

Often, the road to expansion and development is paved with inter-departmental demands and conflicting requirements – but if a facility can get the utilities and processing teams working together to a common goal, that of significant cost and energy savings, then the most amazing sustainable transitions can be achieved. With SEnS there are no best before dates, just genuine enduring savings all round and, combined with the benefits to our planet, surely it all makes common SEnS.

GEA refrigeration and heat pump plant installed at Wipasz
GEA refrigeration and heat pump plant installed at Wipasz
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