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Unlocking energy savings

25 March 2018

In the drive to reduce energy costs, maximise profits and help to meet environmental targets compressed air usage should be a focus area for the food and beverage production sector, says Steve Lindsey

Did you know that the food and beverage processing industry is the UK’s fourth biggest industrial energy user? The Carbon Trust estimates that the sector releases around 11 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year and consumes enough energy to power 125,000 homes for 15 years.

Low pressure compressed air is used widely in the sector for pneumatic conveying; including the transport of powders, grains or granules along pipes around factories, as well as for vacuum sealing products and filling products such as cakes and pies. It is an important and crucial process.

Reviewing efficiency
The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) reveals that compressed air usage is responsible for 8% of food and beverage industry carbon emissions. For this reason the European Commission is reviewing compressor efficiency and including improvements to help meet the EU's 2020 energy targets. This includes investigating whether energy performance requirements, such as the Ecodesign regulation, can be applied to compressors and other standard industrial equipment.

A key factor in compressed air energy wastage within food manufacturing relates to the use of outdated technology. Most plants still use screw and lobe technologies, dating back to 1935 and even earlier. In a traditional rotary compressor, the shape of the internal surfaces can give rise to high internal leakage, and all leakage represents wasted energy.

The Lontra Blade Compressor is believed to be the first new compressor design in the industry for almost 100 years, and it is demonstrated to be around 21% more efficient than the traditional compressors used within industry.

Best explained as a piston and cylinder wrapped around into a doughnut shape, the design has a constantly open and large intake port. Most importantly the internal geometry is much closer to that of a piston compressor than a traditional rotary compressor and the large sealing areas significantly reduce internal leakage and so reduce energy loss. Unlike a piston and cylinder, the Blade Compressor motion is continuous, giving the sealing benefits of a piston compressor with the smooth running of a rotary.

The Blade Compressor is also oil-free by design, which is a significant requirement in the food and drink industry, where air purity and hygiene standards are crucial. Not only do compressors need to perform reliably, but they must also avoid contaminating the products. Microorganisms, oil aerosols and vapours – which can be found in traditional, high-risk compressor systems – all contribute to the spread of contaminants. Oil-free compressors, however, can guarantee total air purity.

Proven design
The benefits of this new design has already been proven in the wastewater industry where compressors must work around the clock to aerate wastewater. One of the first companies to trial the compressor was the UK’s Severn Trent Water which has been using it since 2012. The technology is reported to have delivered energy savings of 21% with a potential 3% reduction in annual energy costs for the entire business. The trial also showed that, if implemented across the whole Severn Trent network, the company could save more than £1.8 million in electricity costs per annum.

The technology is also easy to integrate into existing systems, and scale up or down. The design is simple – with no advanced materials or complex parts – so it is more durable and easy to manufacture.

Steve Lindsey IS CEO and founder of Lontra.

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