The GEA Group recently announced that its Refrigeration Technologies division is now operating under the name GEA Heating & Refrigeration Technologies. The renaming reflects GEA’s leading position as a supplier of sustainable heating and cooling technology under one roof.
This allows GEA to offer its South African customers solutions with increased efficiency and reduced CO2 emissions, helping them to accelerate the transition to greener technologies.
Heat accounts for more than half of the global total final energy consumption and is today still mainly produced using fossil fuels. Companies are consequently looking for better ways to reduce their carbon footprint and to optimise their energy efficiency.
GEA’s heat pumps reuse and upcycle waste heat from essential refrigeration systems and repurpose it in the production process. This significantly reduces energy demand for many industries. Simply put: heat that would be wasted can now be used to replace carbon emissions.
“Our name change clearly signals our long-term commitment to the growing heating and refrigeration market by providing our customers with integrated solutions that are more efficient and better for the environment,” says Kai Becker, CEO of GEA Heating & Refrigeration Technologies. “We have the knowledge, the technology and the ability to successfully implement innovative projects that enable customers to build green factories that comply with current and future emission targets.”
Better access to heating and cooling technology
To provide customers easier access to the latest heat pump technology, GEA is investing a high single-digit million-Euro sum in the extension of its test centres throughout Europe.
The expansion from 400m² to 850m² of its existing test centre in Berlin started in May 2021 and is scheduled to conclude in 2023. As the facility will be 90% automated and operational 24/7, customers will for example benefit from digital and real-time machine and performance data. In Den Bosch, Netherlands, GEA is integrating its off-site test centres into the existing factory and extending it with new state-of-the art test equipment.
“These measures help drive GEA’s own sustainability goals as well as increase customer satisfaction by providing them support in their own sustainability targets,” Becker adds. “We are now seizing the opportunity to expand our division sustainably.”
Strategy for the local region
Looking at GEA’s global climate strategy, presented in June 2021, the company set interim targets for reducing its own greenhouse gas emissions by 60% by 2030, alongside its net zero ambition for 2040. GEA also joined the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), a globally recognised independent body for reviewing climate targets. This initiative not only focuses on the environmental impact of a company’s own production, but also considers the impact of the company’s equipment used by its customers.
“Our local market does not differ much from the rest of the world as food is produced and processed in similar ways around the globe. The strategy in the Southern and Eastern Africa region is therefore completely aligned to the global GEA strategy. Most customers in the food and beverage sector use large quantities of heat in their production processes. The heat is then ultimately removed by the refrigeration system from the product prior to storage or dispatch. By utilising the waste heat from the refrigeration systems and integrating the heating and cooling processes we can create significant opportunities for energy savings and substantial reductions in carbon emissions,” says Hannes Steyn, director of project sales & service Southern & Eastern Africa at GEA Heating & Refrigeration Technologies.
Creating benefits in operations
Heat pumps can add value to customers in many ways depending on their individual needs. For some customers this technology provides the opportunity to de-carbonise their production facility. A heat pump can replace a boiler as an example, and therefore prevent the burning of fossil fuels on site. The efficiency of heat pumps is also very high, and the small amount of electrical energy required for their function can be offset by on-site electricity production through solar or wind systems.
Another factor in particular when looking at an overall system at a processing facility is that, more often than not, far more heating is required than cooling. The market potential for heat pumps is therefore significant provided that the heat can be supplied in the right temperature range. With new technology, such as GEA’s RedGenium heat pump that can reach up to +95 °C, you can achieve high temperatures and high efficiency.
This in turn becomes important because a range of applications open up above the simple use of hot water for a facilities office that most people are familiar with – you can now move to applications such as scalding and pasteurising temperatures efficiently. (Historically heat pumps have been associated with low temperature ranges between 50°C and 70°C.)
“In most cases the benefit of using heat pumps is of a commercial nature. Heat pumps, being extremely energy efficient reduce the total amount of energy required to generate heat for a particular application. The heat pumps have COPs of over 5 but with an integrated heat recovery system COPs of more than 10 has been achieved [depending on the final temperature lift]. They also reduce, and sometimes eliminate, operational and maintenance cost associated with other heating solutions.
“Most refrigeration systems use evaporative or air-cooled condensers and by re-using heat generated from the refrigeration system, the refrigeration system’s overall efficiency is also improved as the condensers do not have to reject the full amount of energy anymore. This in turn results in further power and/or water savings for the customer,” notes Steyn.
Application opportunities in heat pumps
GEA is well known for its solutions to many food production and processing facilities from commercial or craft beer brewing and various dairy applications, to producing chicken nuggets and instant coffee (to name but a few) – all of which require different solutions and temperature ranges. As the technology develops for more efficient higher temperature heat pumps, the opportunities for heat pump applications will naturally increase exponentially, however, some very high temperature processes will still require boilers, given the technology status at this point in time.
“In the context of where the world is finding itself, it has become extremely important to align process equipment designers with the designer of heating and refrigeration systems at the onset of a project in order to identify all integration opportunities that are possible. Since GEA has vast experience in both processing and refrigeration & heating equipment in many applications, it provides an advantage to customers who can benefit at multiple levels of their facilities. Most of the time the people with all of the process knowledge only come into the project at the end as the ‘fridge guys’ where generally it’s too late or very difficult to realise a more holistic system efficiency by applying design changes at the end of the process,” Steyn continues.
Heat recovery technology adoption
The uptake of solutions like heat recovery and the adoption of heat pumps has been slow and there are several reasons for this around the world. However, as the global drive intensifies around energy, efficiency and decarbonisation, wasted opportunity and costs are no longer an option. There has been a mindset shift with regards to environmental impacts and this has seen companies being far more aware of long-term operational costs and demands, and not focused solely on the capital outlay anymore.
This becomes evident when the question changes to ‘how can we reduce our carbon emissions,’ rather than what is the cost or payback period. Globally, carbon taxes are also being driven and so companies are being taxed for their CO2 emissions, and therefore are urgently seeking ways to reduce their carbon footprints.
In South Africa, the challenge for many years now has been the adequate supply of energy and the fact that fossil fuels remain the cheapest option, and so clients have been limited in choices or the luxury of installing multiple equipment types. With the shift in available energy mix, facilities are now starting to gain the options to expand the use of more efficient technology by adding or topping up demand with solar panels to cater to specific energy needs.
“I’m quite happy to see that the industry has started incorporating new techniques like heat recovery. Consultants are starting to put these techniques into practice and it’s not just a case of lowest price anymore. A difference can be made by adding new heat recovery technology for things like washing your hands in the toilets or generating hot water to wash floors in a factory. The environment is changing fast, and our region will not escape the pressure and demand for greener alternatives. We receive enquiries for heat recovery/heat pumps regularly I and believe our industry has lots to offer in terms of more than just refrigeration technologies, but well-placed holistic solutions to gain on every element of efficiency. Our purpose ‘Engineering for a Better’ is more important now than ever before as we have to consider our moral obligations and the impact we make now on our future generations,” Steyn concludes.