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The role of heat exchangers in sustainable production

23 January 2023

From beverage processing to oil and fat crystallisation, heat transfer processes have a critical role to play in food and beverage processing production lines. Yet, when it comes to sustainability and energy savings, they may play an equally important part, argues Samuel Glover.

With more companies than ever now pledging environmentally friendly practices, system efficiency is becoming an increasingly important factor. Energy usage, however, isn’t the only measurement for sustainability, so companies need to consider the broader picture, including waste, water use and more. The versatility of heat transfer and the different types of exchangers can help food producers reach their goals. 

A correctly designed system could help to restore up to 95% of the heat used. Just 1 or 2% greater heat regeneration efficiency will typically yield a rapid return on investment. Each heat exchanger has its role and, in turn, a function in energy savings.

Plate heat exchangers 
Plate heat exchangers play an important role in maximising the use of energy in many heating and cooling processes by transferring heat efficiently and recovering heat for reduced energy use and environmental impact.  SPX Flow’s APV Plate heat exchangers, for example, are used for heating, cooling, condensing and evaporation duties for several processes and applications across industries, including food & beverage.

Manufacturers need to choose the best plate heat exchangers for their systems – many of which can benefit from a customised solution. It is a good idea to talk to a company with experience who can work with you to develop a bespoke plate heat exchange solution to meet the very specific needs of your plant.  

Plate heat exchangers vary in the number of plates used, plate material and thickness, plate corrugation pattern, and gasket material. These variables will influence the thermal performance of the heat exchanger. 

Finding the right configuration for application needs – including gap size between plates, plate thickness and corrugation pattern – comes from experience in plate heat exchanger design and will depend on many factors relating to the production process.

Some of the newer features of modern plate heat exchangers include frames designed to improve safety and reduce the risk of plate damage caused by manual operations. Design can have a big effect on the operational savings available through greater efficiency, reduced downtime and increased productivity.

Scraped surface heat exchangers 
Scraped-surface heat exchangers (SSHEs) come in several different configurations. They use indirect heat transfer, consisting of a product flowing through a product tube, with the heating or cooling media flowing around that product tube through a ‘jacket’. They are also defined by the rotating blades on the rotator shaft within the product tube. 

Innovation is important in this type of equipment. For example, SPX Flow’s Nexus SSHE uses carbon dioxide (CO2) as a refrigerant rather than the traditional ammonia (NH3) or freon (HFC or HCFC). In fats & oils applications it has been shown to improve heat transfer by 30% when compared to other refrigerants. In addition, data showed that product quality improved compared to lines using other refrigerants.

According to the California Air Resources Board, CO2 refrigerant is considered “cleaner” due to its Global Warming Potential (GWP) rating of one. Some types of freon, however, have a GWP of almost 4,000. But, ammonia is toxic, and leaks can harm workers. 

Efficiency and sustainability needs to be built into the design process, as SSHEs are used in everything from heating, cooling, and crystallisation to pasteurisation, sterilisation and gelatinisation processes.

Although many heat exchangers are designed to work reliably in their intended application, correct maintenance of these units is paramount to preserve performance. Routine maintenance, carried out correctly, can help reduce costly, unplanned shutdowns and increase productivity. 

Choosing the right heat exchangers is an essential step toward creating sustainable, reliable and efficient systems. 

Samuel Glover, Global Product Manager – Plate Heat Exchangers at SPX FLOW.

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