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Freezing technology choices

10 April 2024

Rahim Ali argues that selecting the appropriate freezing technology for a food processing factory needs careful consideration of various factors, including budget, available space, flexibility and hygiene standards for cleaning and maintenance.

Among the first freezing systems utilised in the food industry, mechanical freezers remain prevalent in most freezing and cooling lines today. These systems typically circulate a refrigerant to extract heat from the food product. While mechanical freezers involve higher initial capital costs, they are assets visible on a company's balance sheet. Furthermore, thanks to advances in freezing technology, they are efficient and cost-effective in the long term.

As freezing technology evolved, cryogenic freezing emerged as a viable alternative – offering advantages such as rapid freezing, lower initial costs, and factory space efficiency. 

Cryogenic freezing systems utilise liquefied gases, such as liquid nitrogen, to achieve rapid freezing. Despite its benefits, the main drawback of cryogenic freezing is the relatively high cost of cryogens, leading to operating expenses that can be 6–8 times higher than those of mechanical refrigeration systems. Additionally, the growing global demand for liquid nitrogen, driven by industries such as automotive and electronics, further exacerbates pricing pressures within the freezing industry.

Tight margins
For food manufacturers operating within tight margins, the ongoing consumable costs associated with cryogenic freezing can significantly pressure consumer pricing. As a result, many producers are re-evaluating the increase in consumable costs and are considering a conversion to mechanical freezing systems, which have become more energy-efficient over time.

Food production is pivotal to the economies of many developing nations and holds immense potential for improving people's livelihoods. To meet the standards of importing countries, produce must often be frozen promptly after harvesting to preserve nutritional values.

While developed nations may have the means to opt for cryogenic freezing, with consumers willing to pay premium prices, the cost-conscious nature of consumers in developing countries often drives the decision-making process. In such regions, a thorough cost comparison between electricity and liquid nitrogen becomes essential, considering factors such as electricity tariffs, availability, storing and pricing of liquid nitrogen, and specific energy requirements.

Moreover, considering infrastructure limitations and transportation challenges, reliability becomes paramount in developing countries. Additionally, as consumer demand increases due to modernisation and changing lifestyles, there is a growing need for frozen food products, specifically convenience goods, that present both challenges and opportunities for the frozen food industry in these regions.

Considering projections that the global population will reach an estimated 10 billion by 2050, there is a significant opportunity for developing nations in food production. Freezing technologies are poised to play a pivotal role in meeting the growing demand for food worldwide.

Industrial freezing offers the means to preserve surplus agricultural produce, thereby reducing post-harvest losses and ensuring a consistent food supply year-round. It contributes to enhanced food security and helps buffer against seasonal fluctuations in food availability.

In conclusion, the choice between mechanical and cryogenic freezing technologies involves a complex interplay of cost, efficiency, and consumer demand, not forgetting the impact on a company’s Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) rating – As the global food industry continues to evolve, it is imperative for food producers to carefully evaluate these factors to make informed decisions that align with their operational, financial and ESG objectives.

Rahim Ali is Managing Director at Korutek Engineering. 

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