The power of efficient food processing
In light of Australia’s bid to reduce its carbon emissions by 2030, Steven Impey takes a look at how the food-processing sector is reacting to changing views on energy cost.
Energy consumption within the food sector is increasingly becoming a matter for concern – from the farmland where food is grown, right up to the processing methods that put packaged meals on supermarket floors.
Amid a growing energy crisis across Australia and the country’s bid to improve its carbon footprint, industry leaders are saying that now, more than ever, it is vital to react quickly.
To stave off climate change, the federal government is aiming to reduce its emissions by 26-28 per cent from its 2005 levels by the year 2030.
At the same time, power generated from the grid in mainland states is expected to rise to somewhere between 75 and 220 per cent in the next 20 years.
The question is: how are food-processing plants, and especially those that are reliant on a constant flow of energy, going to cope?
Spotting diminishing returns
Wiley, who design, build and maintain facilities, seek the latest approaches and technology to ensure they offer the best efficiency solutions.
Brett Wiskar, the company’s R&D and innovation director, believes that finding the link between the cost of energy and profitability is a pressing issue for many food processors.
“The real trick in reducing the impact and cost of energy is spotting the point of diminishing returns,” Wiskar said. “The opportunity to find power savings and wasteful systems in a manufacturing business is available to every operator in the food industry.
“To remain competitive both domestically and internationally,
our food sector has to find both the means to control energy costs and the means to lower their consumption as a percentage of output.”
Rather than deciding on a tactical expansion – for example a new product
line or facility expansion – businesses will start to give more consideration to the associated energy cost.
In turn, this enables businesses to take earlier steps to being self- sufficient in power generation and makes them better able to make tactical moves in the market.
Pressure is also being placed on companies within the supply chain to reduce greenhouse gases by – in some cases – more than 50 per cent by 2020. Among them, leaders in the meat and agricultural sectors are considering the consequences if the industry doesn’t address its energy use.
Addressing climate issues
Last year, a report by the Australian Meat Processor Corporation (AMPC) looked at the impact increasing average temperatures are having on the condition of cattle in the processing sector.
The report explained that, while maintaining a social licence to operate can be difficult, the red meat industry is seeking to avoid costs by increasing advocacy and research into offsetting carbon emissions of animals and the environmental impact of grazing.
It also raised the issue of increasing acidity in Australian soil, which it claims is affecting an estimated 50 million hectares of agricultural land.
To address climate issues, the AMPC is working with its members to help them better understand and reduce their own energy costs, which may include undertaking regular research into new initiatives and systems.
“Australia is facing a changing natural environment with increasing incidences of extreme weather events and changing weather patterns that directly impact the industry,” an AMPC spokesperson told Food and Beverage Industry News.
“We recognise this and continue to work to raise awareness about Australia’s changing climate and the impact it is having and will have upon our sector.”
AMPC is investing in research that seeks to understand “critical vulnerabilities in the value chain” as well as investigating technology, infrastructure options and mitigation techniques to minimise the industry’s impact on the environment.
In an address at the 2XEP Energy Productivity Summit in Sydney in April, the impact the ongoing energy crisis will have on industry was top of the agenda.
“Over the last 10 years, we have seen a decline in red meat consumption,” said Carl Duncan, who is group manager for resource efficiency at beef supplier Teys Australia. “High [energy] costs and competition mean the industry needs help.
“We would be the first to put our hands up and say that, while working collaboratively with government, we all need to help work through the energy crisis we are experiencing at the moment.
“What we would like to see is consistent policies [from the government] because, with large corporate companies and the current energy crisis being so rapid, it can be difficult for them to react.”
Using renewable sources of energy is one area were Teys is managing its consumption. By diverting wastewater, they have managed to offset 20 to 30 per cent of the company’s natural gas needs across their portfolio.
“The fact is: the energy crisis is putting unsustainable pressure on the industry, with energy markets increasing from 60 to 170 per cent in the last year and natural gas is increasing too,” Duncan added.
“Throwing stones isn’t going to solve the problem, so we all need to collaborate together to help solve it.”
In most food businesses, wastewater – whether a bi-product or as a consumable – contains organic matter, which keeps it at an artificially high temperature.
“Both the elevated temperature and the organic mater are potential sources of energy available to a food production business,” Wiskar explained.
“Through the implementation
of bio-energy recovery systems, businesses are able to harvest energy locked in the organic matter suspended in their wastewater.
“Covered anaerobic ponds or closed tanks allow the biological matter to breakdown generating bio-gas, which can be burnt to create energy.
“In addition, waste heat recovery systems can allow hot water and steam to be used as a source of energy through a range of potential conversion systems.”
Expectations are changing
Simplot, based in Victoria, is one of Australia’s leading food manufacturers for some of the world’s well-known packaged and canned food brands.
Speaking at the 2xEP Summit, the company’s manager for national continuous improvement, Carmel Gilles, explained how “integrating lean processes” is helping reduce energy cost.
“At Simplot, we have created a framework for continuous development and sustainability,” Gilles said. “A system where we can audit all of our sites to find where the gaps are and that helps us generate our plans. “
Their customers are also expecting are harder drive on energy and sustainability improvements. To do this, Simplot is engaging all of its employees to help make a difference.
Wiley are working closely with the food industry, empowering more companies to follow the same example.
“Simple wins exist in most food production businesses and are, generally, easily identified by auditing the operation to determine where power is currently being consumed,” Wiskar said.
“However, just because a change in the production process might reduce energy consumption doesn’t mean savings are scalable with continued long-term positive impacts.”
Simple solutions are often powerful and within reach – whether by changing the insulation or the means of exhaust within a production facility.
In addition, business operations often feel stuck with their current level of energy usage due to the “sunk cost” fallacy, where managers are reluctant to replace equipment that may be wasteful.
“This is despite the fact that a newer, more energy-efficient system might pay for itself – and the equipment it replaced – through energy saving alone,” Wiskar added.
“Exploring energy cost reduction through innovation is rarely a waste of time.”