21 April, 2024

Improving sustainability in food processing

04 June, 2021

Energy efficiency is an important consideration for sustainability and reducing the carbon footprint of manufacturing. In any industry, sustainability is a growing concern. Manufacturers are taking action by implementing innovative technologies that tackle the waste of energy but also wider sustainability concerns, such as recyclability and waste management. Here, Neil Bellinger, head of EMEA at automation parts supplier EU Automation, discusses three of the most popular trends for improving energy efficiency and sustainability in food and drink processing.

The food industry has a history of lagging in environmental performance compared to other industries, as news reports show. In fact, the industry’s environmental impact is significant, accounting for a quarter of the world’s greenhouse emissions, according to a study by Our World in Data. The global food system, which encompasses manufacturing, processing and distribution, is a key contributor to climate change. Today, technologies are emerging to help improve sustainability in this field, particularly in increasing energy efficiency. Let’s explore three of them with the highest potential for energy saving.

Cold pasteurisation

When chemist Louis Pasteur developed pasteurisation back in 1864, it helped save millions of lives by inactivating bacteria within foods such as dairy products, preserving them for longer. Today, almost all liquid products are pasteurised, from regular milk to soda and plant-based drinks. While this revolutionary process is inevitable nowadays, it also reduces the product’s organoleptic quality and consumes vast amounts of energy.

The issues faced by Pasteur at his time were different than the ones we face nowadays. The pressing consequences of climate change and the greater requirements for food safety have led engineers to advance cold pasteurisation using UV light instead of heat. This innovation is said to reduce energy by more than 90% and shrink operation costs, as it does not require centrifugal equipment used in conventional pasteurisation.

When heat is used many qualities of a product are lost, like food’s vitamins and proteins. Cold pasteurisation helps maintain those qualities and preserve the natural taste of the product. Not only that, but researchers at pasteurisation solutions companyLyras, found that UV irradiation increases shelf life due to its high bacterial kill rate and treatment of spores.

Infrared heating

Infrared (IR) heating is another emerging technology that responds to some of the needs and trends of food processing, such as rapid heath transfer. IR heating is a very versatile technique that can be applied to various food processes, such as drying, baking, roasting, bleaching and even pasteurisation. Apart from reducing heating time, providing uniform heating and requiring compact equipment, IR heating is also beneficial for saving great amounts of energy.

Despite the benefits it provides over conventional heating, IR heating is primarily efficient for surface heating applications. In order to achieve an optimal level of energy and be practical in the food industry, IR heating can be combined with microwave and other common conductive and convective modes of heating. Nevertheless, as experts suggest in Infrared heating and its application in food processing , IR heating is an insightful area of research which holds great potential for food processing, especially in operations such as drying and minimal processing.

Anaerobic digestion

Anaerobic digestion (AD) is an innovative and cost-effective solution for converting waste into energy and reducing carbon emissions and harmful greenhouse gases. It is a chemical process where microorganisms break down organic matter in the absence of oxygen, resulting in the generation of carbon dioxide and methane. 

According to the Anaerobic Digestion Strategy and Action Plan, around 16 million tonnes (Mt) of post-farm-gate food and drink waste arises annually in the United Kingdom. The production, distribution and disposal of this amount of byproducts also generates great levels of carbon emissions and water footprint. A great deal of this food and drink waste can be effectively and affordably avoided with anaerobic digestion.

When used for waste management systems, AD helps reduce the emissions of landfill gas into the atmosphere. A simple process like anaerobic digestion can reduce the amount of organic matter destined to be dumped in the sea, in landfills or incinerated.

AD is also widely used as a source of renewable energy. The methane gas it produces can be used directly for cooking or heating, but it can also be transformed into electricity. This form of energy is different from other renewable sources as wind, tidal or solar power because it can be generated constantly, and it can also be stored in the grid in the form of gas. AD can use a variety of organic matter to produce energy, such as food waste from both domestic and industrial origins, farm manures, sewage sludges and purpose-grown crops for energy.

It is clear that we have the solutions at hand for transforming the food processing sector into a more sustainable and efficient field. Trends such as the ones discussed above are innovating the sector and bringing in automation technologies that facilitate the implementation of greener solutions.

At EU Automation we are committed to contributing to a more sustainable future in food processing. We help manufacturers source their automation parts quickly and efficiently in order to speed up their projects, including the implementation of sustainable tech.





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