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Taking control of sugar plant emissions

25 March 2018

While it is widely understood that improving the efficiency of equipment and processes will make a business more competitive and reduce operational costs identifying the areas that need improving can be challenging — especially in sugar plants, which are accustomed to high energy usage and carbon emission levels. Robert Glass explains how to reduce sugar plant carbon emissions. 

Sugar mills generally demand considerable amounts of electricity to run smoothly due to the intensive process of refining sugar. From ABB’s experience in the sugar industry, using 45–50GWh of electricity every year is nothing unusual for a typical sugar cane plant.

Consider this alongside reports from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in the UK, which projected that 2017 would see carbon emissions reach a record high after years of stability. The official figures have yet to be confirmed, but an increase could form the basis of tighter emissions rules across UN countries given the importance of the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

With that in mind, energy efficiency for sugar plant managers is as much about establishing a competitive advantage as it is reducing expenses. In order to improve efficiency, managers must understand what is causing their plant to consume so much power.

Often, ABB’s engineers will conduct a plant assessment and find that inefficient electrical equipment is the cause of the excessive power consumption. This could mean modernising an electric motor or installing high efficiency drives could be the solution, but there is no one size fits all approach to managing a sugar plant. So, how can you determine where your plant’s specific inefficiencies lie?

Monitoring and measuring operational data will give a strong indication of what is causing high energy usage. However, this has traditionally been a long-winded and time-consuming process of manually retrieving and compiling data before analyzing it.

This is where the digitalisation of sugar plants will help managers take control of processes. By using equipment and sensors designed with connectivity in mind, engineers are able to automate the data collection process. This data must then be collected in a central operational management system, such as the ABB Ability manufacturing operations management (MOM) system.

Using the MOM system, plant managers have an extensive overview of the performance of their plant’s operations. The MOM system features an energy monitor app that allows managers to analyse not only current levels of energy usage and emissions, but to also compare it against historic data. Managers can use this to see, in near real-time, changes in usage to determine if anything out of the ordinary has happened with any equipment, such as if it has an elevated electrical draw that may indicate maintenance is required. ABB has also drawn from its extensive experience in the sugar industry to develop a sugar application library, which provides engineers with a comprehensive databank of all sugar production processes. This can be used to control variables in processes across the factory, as well as benchmarking energy costs.

With these systems offering greater transparency of energy usage throughout the plant, managers can start to reduce costs and emissions. In the age of digitalisation, monitoring operational data isn’t just a precursor to better management, it is also a forerunner to better operational efficiency and lower operational expense.

Robert Glass is ABB’s global food and beverage communications manager.

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