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Greg Austin, GEA Slicing and Packaging Equipment, Robert Unsworth, GEA Refrigeration and Heating Solutions and Chris Clarke, GEA Environmental Application
Industry View from
As consumers drive major changes in the world of food manufacturing, seeking better protection of the environment and greener production processes, the sector is becoming more proactive in overhauling its approach.
A global leader in supplying technology for the food industry, GEA has been tackling the issues from multiple angles. The company’s portfolio includes food processing and packaging machinery, refrigeration solutions, waste management and service to support both global and local customers. GEA’s technology is an integral part of the food industry, and supports food manufacturers with practical solutions for product handling, cooling, heating and management or even elimination of waste.
Historically the primary purpose of food packaging has been to protect its contents, and to ensure the food is safe to eat. Now, the aim is also to reduce the amount of packaging – and plastic in particular – while still maintaining the integrity of the pack and quality of the food. GEA has a head start with an unrivalled portfolio of packaging solutions that minimise waste but maximise protection and quality.
Products such as the newly launched GEA PowerPak and SmartPacker deliver on promises including thinner films, better inspection processes and compatibility with sustainable packaging materials. Ultrasonic sealing reduces the amount of plastic required while still guaranteeing a high integrity seal. In addition, OxyCheck is an in-line quality control system that checks the oxygen (O2) content and seal integrity of every single Modified Atmosphere Package (MAP) in a non-invasive manner that ensures only selective rejection, thus minimal waste.
The refrigeration sector is a massive energy consumer: an estimated 30 per cent of power generated in the UK drives the refrigeration process. Up to 90 per cent of energy use in a food storage environment is for refrigeration. And much of the heat produced as a by-product of cooling would have previously been wasted.
GEA is now helping the food industry to maximise its environmental credentials – reducing CO2 emissions – and minimise energy use, not only by reverting to natural refrigerants such as ammonia, but also through the use of heat pump technology. A heat pump is a far more eco-friendly and profitable solution than traditional heating alternatives. Industry, local authorities and homeowners have been using them for heating applications for many years – and food factories are now starting to see the significant financial and environmental benefits of using heat pumps in production processes, especially those that require the application of heat during preparation and subsequent chilling.
GEA has installed heat pumps for many giants in the food industry, helping companies to reduce their running costs and CO2 emissions from day one – and ultimately to reach their sustainability targets.
Annually we see a rise in the tonnage of food waste coming from UK households and industry. Dealing with food waste usually means sending it to landfill where it could have been avoided. Storage and handling costs with this process could be reduced, greenhouse gas emissions contained, the nutrients extracted and potentially re-used as fertiliser on land. How?
Separation by a centrifuge process makes it possible to manage the solid and liquid fractions individually. Primary separation of the raw food waste reduces storage space and transport costs while increasing the value of the potential product for renewable resource such as animal feed or anaerobic digestion. The concentrated solids and in turn the nutrients are easier to handle and can go to further processing, for instance, in anaerobic digestion (AD) where the gas yield per tonne sees a huge increase. The low solids liquid fraction is treated on site for discharge or reuse.
The AD process has many benefits, but post primary separation the waste generated is in the form of digestate. This is still over 90% liquid due to break down of solids and other mixed in liquors and handling again can be a problem. Further separating by use of a highly efficient centrifuge gives control of the nutrient value in the solid or liquid fractions. With phosphorus (P) mainly bound to the solids, and Nitrogen (N) mainly soluble, the flexibility of the machine allows nutrient division to be controlled. This means a concentration of nutrients in solid form which can be stored easily or transport to nutrient deficient areas further away.
The liquid fraction, if compliant, can be spread to farm land as an organic fertiliser in higher volumes while meeting consent of local legislations for Nitrogen and Phosphorus, reducing the environmental impact. Storage in tanks or lagoon also becomes easier due to no settleable solids.
This all gives farmers more leeway in their spreading schedule to apply the necessary nutrients at the time when crops need them the most.
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