Mozzarella! It’s one of the world’s most popular cheeses, relatively low in fat and calories so it’s a healthier option than many other cheeses. With its excellent grating and baking properties, it’s been the saviour of pizza, pasta dishes and bakery goods across the world. Mozarella also contains probiotics such as the bacteria Lactobacillus casei and Lactobacillus fermentum. What’s not to like?

When enjoying that delicious pizza it’s easy to forget that a factory and a passionate team of experts somewhere was responsible for creating its mouth-watering cheese topping. When a top cheese and dairy producer built a state-of-the-art facility in Northern Europe - dedicated to the production of mozzarella for the pizza market - GEA’s unique Sustainable Engineering Solutions (SEnS) were deployed in the design phase. This was specifically to help the food processor reduce its energy footprint and running costs while also improving productivity.

GEA is at the forefront of technology solutions for the dairy industry. 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 cheesemakers.

Boilers running out of steam

The SEnS holistic approach revolutionizes the integration of process and utilities. Implementing energy efficient cooling and heating solutions for the cheese factory enabled the company to ditch a gas boiler, moving from steam to hot water, and thus cut CO2 emissions. The starting  point was very simple, says GEA’s Heating & Refrigeration Sales Manager, Peter Kuiper: “How do we convert milk into mozzarella as sustainably and efficiently as possible?”

“It's all about the smart integration between the process demands and cooling and heating requirements. Taking this holistic view led to the decision to include an add-on heat pump in the plans, right from the start. This converts the heat released from the cooling process into hot water at 90 °C / 194 °F. More than enough for pasteurization, which takes place at a minimum 76°C / 169 °F product temperature. Any food or beverage factory can benefit from using heat pumps.”

Peter Kuiper, Sales Manager at GEA Heating & Refrigeration

Boilers running out of steam

Some of the highest heat demands are for processes using boilers to pasteurize products, which are then cooled back down again by a refrigeration plant. The result can be a massive waste of energy. Our SEnS team advised our client that in such a situation waste heat can be reused and upcycled in the process in a circular fashion using heat pumps, rendering the old steam-generating boiler obsolete.

Peter Kuiper’s team is extremely well-versed in installing these ice-water installations with dozens to their credit in cheese factories and many other industries. The two teams of engineers worked together, sharing best practices and expertise. With no contractors or other middlemen involved communication was clear and plans were put into action without much ado.

“They really wanted a supplier with both refrigeration and process experience and of course that’s where we come in. We’ve got all our experts under one roof and, while we can work with consultants (and have frequently), it was extremely beneficial here to have direct contact with the customer’s own team, so we could collaborate and innovate jointly and ensure the very best outcome.”Peter Kuiper, Sales Manager at GEA Heating & Refrigeration

SEnS-ible approach to energy usage

Our integrated cooling and heating plant has several cooling compressors and two heat pumps – each one with a capacity of 2.5 megawatts / 8530 MBH. The heat generated from cooling the milk to 4°C / 39°F is reused in the pasteurization process.  

SEnS-ible approach to energy usage

It is clear that investing in sustainability and energy efficiency is beneficial. However, partners must be willing to embrace an integrated approach to the production process and energy requirements. Of course, a company must always weigh which investment offers the quickest return, but with SEnS support a plant can be set up in the best possible way taking into account energy efficiency, CO2 emissions and TCO.

Switching from a fossil fuel-driven boiler to heat pumps ensures efficient use of waste heat for cheesemaking. With current energy prices on the rise, payback time is quicker than ever – sometimes even quicker than the time needed for the installation itself!  

Sustainable solutions

SEnS offers a three-stage approach to sustainability for the dairy industry: reduce, reuse and upcycle in terms of energy, water and residual streams.The first is to use equipment with highest efficiency like direct driven centrifuges, IE4 motors with frequency drives for pumps and compressors and optimize processes to minimize energy usage by reconsidering required temperatures on both the cold and warm side.

Sustainable solutions

The second stage is to reuse energy by cascading as many hot and cold flows as possible directly against each other. For example,  the heat in the whey generated during cheese making can be used to preheat raw milk prior to pasteurization. Another large energy stream to reuse is the heat released from the cooling plant  that previously was lost in the atmosphere.

Upcycling is lifting the reused heat from the cooling plant from a level of 35°C / 95
°F to temperatures of 90°C / 194°F, so it can be applied again  in the production process at a higher temperature level. This is the job for which a heat pump is perfectly fitted. 

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). Reusing and upcycling waste energy reduces the heat required from other sources, typically a boiler – which in many situations can eventually be phased out entirely – and this significantly improves the efficiency and sustainability of the complete process.

Climate-friendly ammonia

We recommend the use of refrigeration technology designed around natural refrigerants, especially ammonia, to help meet environmental targets for phasing out the use of fluorinated gases (F-gases) – and to help reduce the emissions being pumped into our atmosphere.

Our heating and refrigeration solutions are helping companies switch to natural refrigerants to meet the stricter cooling gas regulations to cut greenhouse emissions (Kyoto Protocol) and protect the ozone layer (Montreal Protocol) by discontinuing the use of F-Gases. Ammonia is the go-to natural refrigerant, easily and quickly replacing those that are being restricted or phased out. It’s been around for 150 years, but at the same time it is a very modern refrigerant.

Another huge advantage of ammonia is that it can be used for both low-cost cooling and heating thanks to its thermodynamic properties. A system running on ammonia will typically last 20 years or more, so longevity is not an issue. Ammonia as a material is also a sustainable solution. 

Collaboration is key

Proven refrigeration and heating technology can be tailored to provide innovative solutions that are sufficiently robust to fit a wide application from minus 45 °C / 113 °F to an industry-leading 95°C / 203 °F, ideal for the pasteurization process in a dairy. GEA’s ice water installations have covered many different applications including cheese, milk powder, goat milk powder, yogurt, ice cream and more.

Essentially, any type of food or beverage factory can reduce its energy costs by installing a heat pump. As Peter Kuiper explains: “Factories always need refrigeration when they have a spray dryer or a pasteurizer – and when we bring in the heat pump, that saves them a lot of operational costs. We make it a circular process, cascading and reusing energy resources.

“GEA is very close to many, many existing customers not just in dairy, but in food and beverage generally. But there’s still huge potential out there for thousands more factories to switch from steam to hot water and use this energy-saving heat pump technology to reduce emissions and save money over the short and long term.”

It is our goal to collaborate with customers and advise them on how we can work together to build a more circular economy. To be able to reuse and cascade energy in the production process is a phenomenal way that we get to engineer for a better world. A sustainable future requires a different way of thinking today.

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