Inspired by a project with KLH Sustainability, which has us all excited (but we can’t discuss just yet) we thought we would introduce some of our research and learnings on the biggest sustainability opportunities within food processing facilities, in a joint blog with the team at KLH Sustainability.
In this blog, we explore four key ideas and numerous sustainable design opportunities through which food factories can minimise environmental impact, improve their working conditions. and strive for a carbon neutral food factory.
Our next blog, which will be published next week will reveal the next five key ideas, focusing on sustainability themes that are less typical of factories, but that are on the ride in the industry.
1. Energy demand reduction
Food factories are energy guzzlers requiring exceptional amounts of energy to mass-produce the food we see on the shelves. Their major energy is spent on processing equipment, including production lines’ operation and cleaning as well as the general factory operations, including space conditioning, ventilation and lighting. Each major contributor comprises many individual energy users, with diverse use profiles and requirements. But, while quick wins on energy demand reduction can be identified by considering each contributor individually, greater energy efficiency opportunities arise when considering the full energy demand profiles of the factory, and when investigating the interdependencies among its significant energy uses.
Reducing energy during production
Industrial production usually requires some form of process heating for activities such as distillation, evaporation, drying, cooking, etc. Process heating operations are responsible for approximately 70% of the manufacturing sector’s energy use, while the food industry is estimated to account for about 26% of the EU’s total energy consumption. Capturing waste heat can save money and energy, and can be achieved through various waste heat recovery (WHR) technologies. WHR systems consist of heat exchangers and can be built into a new plant or retrofitted to existing plants. It is estimated that, depending on the process, energy wastage from freezing and canning in fruit and vegetable processing is between 10% and 45%. With rising fuel costs, estimates show WHR payback periods are as low as 2-3 years. Additionally, use of economisers in boiler systems can increase the efficiency by 1% for every 5°C reduction of flue gas temperature. This indicates that the system’s fuel consumption can be reduced by 5–10% with a payback period of less than two years.
Factory energy demand reduction
Factories are energy intensive buildings. They tend to be spaces of high volume, with sensitive temperature set points, high mechanical ventilation rates and lighting requirements throughout their operating hours.
Warehouses and vehicle loading can be major sources of heat loss. While provision of lobbies and strip curtains, air locks, or insulated shutter doors can reduce heat loss and even greater benefits can be achieved by coupling vehicles to buildings by a dock seal, most notably when coupled to a temperature-controlled loading bay or holding area.
Careful and selective glazing positioning can provide significant wellbeing and energy benefits in large factory spaces. Rather than providing good levels of natural light throughout a facility (which given the higher U-values of glazing compared to solid walls can lead to significant reduction in thermal performance) it is sensible to prioritise glazing in areas where operatives are working if food safety permits, such as packing areas and above engineer’s workstations, rather than areas of automated processing lines where operatives are just passing through for quality checks.
2. Balanced energy distribution
Typically, factory cooling is provided using chillers, where the waste heat output would usually be rejected into the atmosphere, with heating generated from a separate system, thereby creating an open jaw duplication of energy generation. Food factories have a unique energy characteristic: they generally require both heat and cooling in large quantities at the same time. This presents the opportunity to introduce a closed loop waste-heat recovery system, which uses the cooling waste heat to preheat air or water, and consequently, reduce the factory’s heating demand.
Additional energy balancing opportunities comprise pre-cooling/heating of spaces at times of low power demand, such as during night shifts.
3. Low and zero carbon technologies
Factories are typically located in low-density industrial areas with low-rise buildings and good distribution links. The low density of their surrounds may prove ideal for large-scale wind turbines, thereby improving the local renewable energy infrastructure and offering a zero-carbon energy source for the factories.
Considering the sheer size and footprint of many factories, their extensive roof area is perfect for roof-mounted photovoltaic arrays. Coupling the PVs with a green roof can also improve the building’s thermal performance and provide a more thermally comfortable environment, therefore reducing both winter heating and summer cooling costs.
4. Hidden carbon
When we think of carbon, we usually think of gas and electricity consumption. Maybe, some of us think about cows farting too, as one tonne of methane has the same global warming potential (GWP) as 28 tonnes of carbon. But there are other colourless, odourless gases in buildings which we tend to overlook: refrigerants.
Modern cooling systems can use multiple refrigerants, with hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) being the norm, since they replaced the pesky chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), responsible for the ozone hole and banned under the Montreal Protocol 1987. However, these refrigerants often have a high GWP of over 1400, and even those deemed “low GWP”, such as the HFOs (Hydroflouro Olefins) often need to be blended with HFCs for commercial application thereby leading to coolants with a GWP of around 1000. Of course, the GWP of the refrigerants is only an issue if they escape the system and leak into the atmosphere, but therein lies the problem, as annual gas leak rates in refrigeration systems can be around 25%!
Natural refrigerants such as ammonia and hydrocarbon with no or negligible GWP are available in commercial systems and can operate in temperature ranges far greater than their alternatives. The added benefit of this is that heat pump solutions using such refrigerants can operate in higher temperatures and therefore, become more attractive for industrial installations.
The next article in this two part series will be published on our website on 6th August 2019. If you have any questions, please get in touch with our team of experts here.
Integrated Food Projects have partnered with Kettleby Foods on a number of high-profile multi-million pound capital projects since 2003/4, helping the business to develop and grow. Throughout that time they have provided cost-effective and efficient solutions on development projects both at our existing ready meals production facility and also in creating a new satellite facility. The projects at our existing facility were managed without impact on our ability to service our own clients, and all projects have been delivered within budget, in a timely fashion and to the requisite standards of safety and quality. Their team work ethos and professional approach ensure successful projects and I would utilise Integrated Food Projects in the future without hesitation.
- Jarrod Thorndyke, Production Director
I have worked with Integrated Food Projects on many capital expenditure projects since 2004, the latest being the development of the new plot of land adjacent to our main site. They successfully employed a project delivery process to ensure the integration of a leased modular building solution with the development of the site infrastructure to improve logistics and Health and Safety. Their staff are always positive and enthusiastic and have fostered a team-work approach ensuring another successful project delivered. I look forward to working with them again in the near future.
- Engineering Manager, Major UK Ready Meals Manufacturer