Energy use accounts for at least 15% of the total operational costs in a food and beverage manufacturing business. Energy efficiency supports profitability, reliability, enhanced yield and quality, while reducing production inputs.
Outlined below are the various energy efficiency opportunities for food and beverage manufacturers.
Metering and monitoring
Metering and monitoring helps operators to:
- better understand energy and material flows
- identify excess energy use
- identify faults
- evaluate costs and benefits of potential upgrades.
Sub-metering should at least cover system or processes, but equipment-level metering is ideal. By acting on low-cost, ‘quick wins’ identified through metering and monitoring, payback on investment is typically under 2 years.
Operating temperatures and pressure settings
Food and beverage manufacturing plants have equipment operating at varying temperatures and pressures. Running equipment at optimal levels can mean big energy savings for little cost, extend the life of key components, and improve production quality.
Cooled storerooms are often kept at lower temperatures than required due to equipment failure concerns. The temperature should be set to meet product storage requirements. Overcooling a storeroom wastes energy and increases the risk of refrigeration failure from excessive plant load.
Preventive maintenance programs can detect potential problems before they become serious. Poor efficiency and reliability commonly start with overheating, leaks in air compressors, chiller rooms and fridges, and excessive friction between moving parts.
Plant and equipment shutdown
Many food and beverage processing plants have high energy costs and efficiency losses, even when not operating. Options to address this include:
- maintaining good ‘control engineering’ to ensure equipment switches off or shifts to low-power mode when not in use
- fixing or replacing fault-prone equipment so it can be turned on and off regularly without risk of not restarting
- insulating equipment that loses or gains heat when not in use.
Optimise and upgrade
Refrigeration and product cooling
Minimising heat gain into refrigerated systems reduces energy needed to maintain temperatures. Some options to improve refrigeration and cooling efficiency include:
- positioning refrigeration units and heat exchangers away from heat sources
- checking door seals and refrigerant levels
- better cool-room insulation to reduce thermal leaks through metal frames
- minimising the temperature of supply air
- air locks and automatic doors where appropriate
- staged cooling and multi-staged chillers
To read more, see the Refrigeration guide.
Options to improve efficiency of boiler systems include:
- insulating boiler valves
- installing steam and condensate return pipes and storage units
- pre-heating entry water from excess heat or solar hot water systems
- selecting boilers which can vary (modulate) their output
- implementing efficient sequencing controls if multiple boilers are in use
To read more, see the Process heat and steam guide.
Many commercial ovens are poorly insulated or have metal joints forming a thermal bridge for heat loss. By increasing oven insulation to an R value of at least 2.5 and reducing thermal bridging, radiated heat can be reduced by up to 75%.
To read more, see the Process heat and steam guide.
Traditional food drying techniques include spray drying, hot air drying and freeze drying. These all require large amounts of energy and other inputs such as gases.
Some options to improve efficiency in the drying process are:
- low temperature evaporation
- waste heat recovery and heat exchangers
- purpose-built efficient heat pump dryers and dehumidifiers
- solar and microwave-assisted drying
These can sometimes be combined with older methods to create a more efficient hybrid process.
Compressed air is commonly used in process cleaning, product packaging, food sorting, cutting, shaping and blow-off. Energy waste can result from common problems like system leaks, inappropriate use, excessive pressure and poor layout. Proper operation is crucial for product quality and system reliability. Improvements to compressed air systems can often be done cheaply resulting in paybacks of under 2 years.
The Australian Alliance for Energy Productivity has produced a report detailing common obstacles to tackling compressed air efficiency and pathways for improvement at the business and industry levels.
To read more, see the Compressed air guide.
Conveyor systems in food production can be energy-intensive. Production downtime and excessive energy use from friction or poor motor performance can be costly.
Options to improve efficiency of conveyors include:
- regularly checking belts, rollers, motors and drives for efficiency and reliability
- configuring layouts to reduce the system length and number of components required
- installing sensors and controls to optimise operation
- taking advantage of gravity where possible.
To read more, see the Motors and variable speed drives guide.
Facility HVAC and lighting
Food and beverage production often requires careful control of temperature and humidity. Insulation and HVAC upgrades are not overly expensive, and payback can often be achieved within 5 to 7 years. To read more, see the HVAC guide.
If your facility still uses energy-intensive lighting like fluorescent, metal halide or mercury vapour, LED replacements are an easy opportunity to save energy. LEDs have a payback period of under 2 years and reduce ongoing maintenance costs. For more opportunities, see the Lighting guide.
Heat and steam creation alternatives
Creating heat and steam represents a large portion of energy costs for food manufacturers. There are a number of cost-effective ways to address this.
High-temperature heat pump systems are able to produce boiling water and steam. The main benefit of heat pumps is they can produce more heat output than they consume in electrical energy. Heat pumps can also be driven by thermal or solar energy. To read more, see the Australian Alliance for Energy Productivity’s guide on heat pumps for the Australian food industry.
Where energy-intensive heat sources must be used, efficient heat recovery (including the latent heat of water vapour) is critical. Steam traps and boiler blow-down recovery save water and boiler heating requirements. The returned condensate is much hotter than feedwater and may not require treatment. While there is a large upfront cost, heat recovery measures often repay investment in under 3 years.
To read more, see the Waste heat recovery guide.
Blanching and alternatives
Blanching preserves product quality and ensures food is free from dirt and micro-organisms. Blanchers are often specialised, energy-intensive pieces of equipment. Some tuning may be possible, such as ensuring accurate temperature control and exposure duration. However, new equipment and alternative approaches can save more than 50% of energy use, increase product yield, quality and reduce waste water.
These approaches include:
- highly insulated equipment enclosures with seals to reduce evaporation
- steam blanchers and the use of steam injection to heat ‘make up’ water entering the system
- integration of heat recovery technology and multiple smaller units and/or compartments
- fully automated, flexible and precise system control
- microwave alternatives
- infrared, ultrasonic, ultraviolet, chemical and electrical alternatives.
Compressed air alternatives
As compressed air systems are inherently inefficient, the easiest way to reduce related energy use is to consider alternatives such as electric motor-driven equipment. Areas to start looking for include:
- alternate cleaning techniques such as mechanical or chemical solutions
- cooling with fans, natural ventilation, better insulation or a lower pressure air source
- drying with waste heat, air from other site sources or electric heat pumps.
Electric alternatives use around one eighth of the energy and produce much less noise, while enabling more speed and precision. Where compressed air is still required, assess the quality of air needed for various tasks as there may be opportunities to use a less energy-intensive air source.
Pasteurisation is widely used to reduce or eliminate microbiological contamination and extend storage life. High standards of process hygiene and monitoring can avoid or reduce the need for pasteurisation. Alternatives to pasteurisation include:
- microfiltration of beverages and other liquids
- UV treatment as a non-heating option for sterilising containers
- ultrasonics, which have a similar effect to irradiation in disrupting the DNA chains of bacteria.
- ultra-high-pressure treatment.
These alternatives are more efficient where products are heat-sensitive or heat recovery is not practical.
Many businesses in the food and beverage sector have installed on-site rooftop solar PV systems. As a greater proportion of plant processes are electrified, loads can be matched with periods of high solar generation. As loads increase, PV systems can be expanded accordingly. Solar water heating can also be used as an alternative for heating or pre-heating. This allows water to be heated well above 80˚C.
Onsite battery storage may also be worth considering as prices decline. Batteries enable greater onsite use of solar PV through the day and provide a backup option in the event of grid failure. Energy can also be stored thermally in water, phase change materials (PCM), or in the bulk mass of food products in refrigeration.
The food and beverage sector is one of the largest users of process heat in Australia. The Australian Renewable Energy Agency’s (ARENA) Renewable Energy Options for Industrial Process Heat report outlines opportunities to switch to renewable alternatives to provide process heat.
To read more, see the Renewable energy guide.
Food waste-to-energy plant
Most food waste has potential for reuse as an energy source. Organic waste can be used in the generation of renewable energy through anaerobic digesters.
Anaerobic digestion occurs when micro-organisms break down organic material in the absence of oxygen, producing biogas (methane) and a rich fertiliser. When this biogas is captured, it can reduce methane emissions from manure decomposition by up to 95%. Anaerobic digestion and biogas recovery is best suited to large food processing plants with high-strength wastewater, such as dairy processing plants or breweries.
The IEA Bioenergy and Bioenergy Australia’s Bioenergy Kickstarter tool can help you explore bioenergy options for your facility.
Supply chains and packaging
Food and beverage manufacturing causes many environmental impacts along the supply and production chain. Supply chain collaboration is key to improving energy efficiency and reducing lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions and waste.
The Australian Industry Group and Sustainability Victoria conducted a pilot study of 2 supply chains to identify the carbon reduction opportunities. The study found substantial opportunities for carbon reduction arise from supply chain co-operation, life-cycle management and changes to product design.
Adopting ‘circular economy’ and ‘zero waste’ thinking in supply chain and packaging strategies takes advantage of ‘greener’ consumer awareness while improving the business bottom line.
Due to the rise of efficient electrical technologies such as high-temperature heat pumps, high performance motors and microwaves, many production facilities can now be largely (or entirely) run on electricity. This offers a number of advantages:
- less reliance on fossil fuels such as gas
- better control and integration of processes and equipment
- more flexible demand management and electricity tariff selection
- opportunity for onsite solar PV.
Electrification can also allow participation in the wholesale demand response mechanism. This allows eligible large electricity consumers, such as manufacturing plants, to reduce their energy load during peak energy demand in exchange for financial incentives. The Australian Energy Regulator has released guidelines for businesses wishing to participate.
The cornerstones of the fourth industrial revolution uncovering new pathways to manufacturing are:
- networking of intelligent manufacturing systems
- coordination of manufacturing and logistics
- virtualisation and integration along the supply chain
- exponential technologies.
To read more, see the Industry 4.0 guide.
Next steps you can take
- Assess the efficiency of your compressed air system with the Food and beverage energy tool.
- Read about how to conduct an energy audit.
- Research energy efficiency training options.
- Energy efficiency training
- Building the business case for energy efficiency projects NSW Government
- Energy-Efficient Industrial Refrigeration Australian Institute of Refrigeration, Air conditioning and Heating (AIRAH)
- See the Energy Efficiency Council website to find an expert or equipment provider.
- Explore financing options for your projects.
Manufacturing funding Australian Government - Funding is available under the Modern Manufacturing Strategy to help Australian manufacturers grow, innovate and compete. The food and beverage sector is one of the 6 national manufacturing priorities identified in the strategy.
Emissions Reduction Fund - Industrial equipment upgrades Australian Government
Beard and Brau (PDF 940 KB) Queensland Government - Increasing the yield of batches has also increased production efficiency and energy and water productivity.
Buderim Ginger (PDF 253 KB) Queensland Government - With the help of an ecoBiz rebate, Buderim has fitted energy-reducing technologies on its ventilation, air-conditioning and boiler systems.
Golden Circle (PDF 321 KB) Queensland Government - Sub-metering installed throughout facilities, optimising procedures and equipment on the canning line and automatic clean-in-place systems.
Priestley’s Gourmet Delights (PDF 226 KB) Queensland Government - With a custom power factor solution, Priestley’s reduced energy costs by over $6,000 in a 3-month period.
De Bortoli Wines NSW Government - Industrial refrigeration optimisation using variable head pressure control and condensate sub-cooling.
Foodprocessing.com.au Energy efficiency and sustainability improvements at food and beverage manufacturers.
Renewable energy for process heat Australian Alliance for Energy Productivity - Site assessments to determine the technical and commercial feasibility of renewable energy for process heat.
A Renewable Feast Climate Council - Businesses switching to renewable energy and substantially reducing their energy bills.
SA wine industry InDaily - Pernod Ricard Winemakers, Wirra Wirra and Kay Brothers are all committed to greater energy efficiency.
Sundowner Craft Breweries Clean Energy Council - Six solar-powered breweries across Australia.
Food and Beverage National Manufacturing Priority road map Australian Government
Future Food Systems Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) Australian Government
Renewable Energy Options for Industrial Process Heat (ARENA) Australian Government
Australian manufacturing gas efficiency guide Clean Energy Finance Corporation, Ai Group, Energy Efficiency Council
Electrification Opportunities in Victoria’s Industrial Sector Victorian Government
Energy efficiency in manufacturing food and beverage Victorian Government
Industrial refrigeration NSW Government
Winery Energy Saver Toolkit South Australian Wine Industry Association