Heat wasted on the roof, excessive use of harmful and expensive chemicals, water flushed down the drain, fuel burned by old-fashioned boilers… Wake up, it’s 2021! We really don’t need that anymore. These days there’s a way to get rid of bad habits from the past and to organize your beverage factory in a much more sustainable way. The juicy truth behind the magic lies in… letting our experts in Sustainable Energy Solutions (SEnS - Integrated process and cooling & heating solutions) join forces and sink their teeth into your challenges. We had a chat with two of GEA’s brightest minds who love doing just that: Franz-Josef Helms, beverage process expert, and Robert Unsworth, cooling and heating expert.

Why are you introducing the SEnS approach to beverage customers?

GEA experts Robert Unsworth (left) and Franz-Josef Helms (right)
GEA experts Robert Unsworth (left) and Franz-Josef Helms(right)

Robert Unsworth: “Traditionally, a process plant is designed in two separate parts, where process and utilities (cooling & heating) are not looked at as a whole. People tend to focus so hard on the design or optimization of a particular process that they overlook the bigger picture. We see that a lot when we talk to beverage plant owners around the world. What we try to do is bring these two parts together and ensure they work well together. Just like we do here within GEA.”

Franz-Josef Helms: “Exactly. You see, it’s all about breaking with old patterns. GEA has the unique advantage of having in-house knowledge of both process and utilities. We work closely together and that’s what we try to make our customers do too. We know it isn’t always easy because they’re faced with the reality that the road to expansion and development is often paved with interdisciplinary demands and conflicting requirements. And, unfortunately, this means that many opportunities are missed.”

And when you keep the bigger picture in mind, you can make the most progress?

Robert Unsworth: “That’s right. If a facility can get us (I mean utilities) in as early as possible in the design process, there’s less likely to be any fallout later, because it means the solution will be more closely aligned with expectations from a very early stage. And it will be cost-effective. When the refrigeration and processing teams are striving towards a common goal (i.e. significant cost- and energy-savings), then the most amazing transitions can be achieved. We’re living proof of that, aren’t we, FJ?” 

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

Franz-Josef Helms: “Yes, when you put process knowledge and cooling & heating knowledge together, you’re not talking about gaining 0.5% here and 1% there. It’s not about small steps such as changing a specific piece of equipment or setting a parameter correctly. Now, thanks to our holistic approach – SEnS – it’s possible to lower energy usage and operating costs by as much as 30% and cut CO2 and NOx emissions by up to 90%. When this is combined with significant reductions in consumption of water and chemicals and in product losses, the overall plant can be 100% sustainable.”

Those figures are pretty impressive. Do they extend to all beverage applications?

Franz-Josef Helms: “Definitely. That’s the beauty of it. Our 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 brew beer or another temperature to pasteurize juice.”

Robert Unsworth: “Absolutely. Because you can actually think of every beverage factory as a massive refrigerator. Anything that goes on in there generates warmth, or heat. And heat is energy. So instead of letting that heat go to waste and actually paying to dump it, we look for ways to recover it and reuse it elsewhere in the process. And then you nearly always come to the conclusion that a resource-saving GEA heat pump is a vital link in the chain because it captures low-temperature heat and boosts it up to high-temperature usable heat. 

Look, heat pumps have been used for homes and district heating for a long time, but not actually that long in industry. That’s because the food, beverage and dairy industry needs higher temperatures. GEA has put a great deal of effort into developing heat pump technology in recent years. As a result, temperatures up to 90 degrees Celsius and above can now easily be achieved, which is ideal for most of the beverage processes we deal with. On top of that, customers who install a GEA heat pump can eliminate some, if not all, of their fuel-fired boilers, typically used for heating water. This automatically boosts energy-savings and significantly lowers CO2 emissions, and even more so if green energy sources like windmills are utilized.”

SEnS make sense for all beverage applications
SEnS make sense for all beverage applications

Wasn’t that exactly what innocent did at its new juice manufacturing plant in Rotterdam (the Netherlands)?

Robert Unsworth: “Yes, innocent’s new carbon-neutral facility in Rotterdam is of course a great example and we’re incredibly proud of that. You can read all about it in an article on the GEA website, but the point I’d like to make here is that innocent has approached this particular project with an open mind right from the start and has teamed up with like-minded partners who share its vision of creating a planet-friendly, human-friendly and cost-effective factory. The new plant fully exploits smart GEA technologies for directly and indirectly recovering energy from one part of the process and channeling it to other parts of the plant, with a little ‘smart buffering’ in between. And besides energy recovery, a lot of effort went into cutting down water and chemical consumption and reducing the loss of raw materials and product.”

GEA juice thermal treatment system powered by GEA heat pump technology
GEA juice thermal treatment system powered by GEA heat pump technology

The impact on the Total Cost of Ownership is significant, and the influence on the environment is huge.

Robert Unsworth: “That’s right. And there’s a massive need for that now, worldwide. Let’s not forget that energy efficiency potentially offers 40% of the emission reductions required to help meet global climate goals. So our responsibility as industrial players as to whether or not we succeed in achieving the standards is enormous.”

GEA refrigeration and heat pump plant
GEA refrigeration and heat pump plant

And, uh, is a switch to Sustainable Energy Solutions expensive?

Robert Unsworth: “Not if you think it through early enough! You might need a heat pump, but you won’t need a boiler or a condenser in your refrigeration plant. Though you’ll probably need a thermal buffer, so it kind of works out costing around the same, perhaps a little more but not significantly. Here, too, the golden rule applies: look at the bigger picture. Although you may require slightly more capital investment, the payback time is very short on any investment, as operating costs are greatly reduced.”

So what you’re actually saying is that carbon-neutral manufacturing is also within the beverage industry’s grasp?

Robert Unsworth and Franz-Josef Helms: “That’s exactly the point we’ve been trying to make.” (both laugh)

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