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Heat pumps help maximse energy efficiency

06 October 2018

Food production plants looking for greater sustainability can now turn to heat pumps which can help reduce energy being wasted in applications which require the application of both heating and cooling. 

The global trend for more stringent emission regulations across the globe, alongside a push to maximize efficiency, brings with it new challenges for the food processing sector. Robert Unsworth, head of sales (Utilities) in the UK for GEA, believes that the use of heat pumps in the food sector, as well as the dairy and beverage sectors, is going to be the biggest ever leap forward for food production and refrigeration. 

While heat pumps and the food industry have not traditionally been natural partners, this is starting to change, as the technology develops and customers recognise the financial and environmental benefits of using heat pumps in their production processes – such as during slaughtering, cutting, drying, frying, chilling, portioning and packaging – all of which require both the application of heat during preparation and subsequent chilling. 

Transferring heat
A heat pump will transfer heat from a lower temperature level (heat source) to a desired higher temperature level (heat sink). Industry, municipalities and homeowners have used these systems for heating applications for many years. However, it is only now that they are being incorporated into food processing procedures. New advances mean that GEA heat pumps are now able to meet the required temperatures for food processing which makes food production more cost-effective and sustainable. They are finding applications in numerous industrial processes, given that plants have both waste heat flows and heat consumers. In view of this most modern industries perform pinch analysis to map their heat flows and capacities, temperature levels, flow connection and interchange options to determine the suitability and return on investment of a heat pump solution.

Traditionally, a boiler has been employed in food processing applications to heat up or cook food, which is then placed into a refrigerator to cool. This leads to huge amounts of energy being wasted as the temperature of the waste heat from the refrigeration process is too low to be reused. 

A GEA Red Astrum ammonia heat pump can boost the temperature of the waste heat up to 85°C and put it back into the system – reusing the heat and making a boiler unnecessary in some cases. 

Ammonia is readily available, inexpensive and has a minimal environmental impact. Although noxious at high concentrations, the implementation of carbon absorbers in ammonia-based heat pumps eliminates any risk. As well as significantly reducing the plant’s energy usage, such a system can lower water and chemical consumption from the site’s cooling towers. 

GEA has already installed heat pumps into many food industry applications, helping reduce running costs and CO2 emissions from day one. A boiler in one plant consumed a total of 15.3 million kWh for heating and refrigeration combined in one year; which amounts to the release of 4,739 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere. After installing GEA heat pumps, the combined usage was just 4.8 million kWh, producing 1,978 tonnes of CO2. This equates to a reduction in power consumption by 68.6% and a lowering of CO2 emissions by 58.2%. 

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