South Africa’s food and beverage cold chain sector plays an important role in maintaining food security. This is part two of a two-part series.
…continued from part one.
Serving up solutions
Williams says that AES has a number of success stories in the food and beverage sector.
“AES took over operations at a large FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) client’s pilot facility, which was struggling with overall energy efficiency due to a lack of technical expertise and resulting challenges with the plant and equipment on site.
We guaranteed an improvement in the operating efficiency in the boiler house and a reduction in the use of heavy furnace oil. We put one of our own boilers on the site to bolster their capacity, installed further capacity to support their production, took over management of and trained their staff and implemented AES’s operating practices and management systems,” he recalls.
These combined efforts reduced fuel consumption and carbon footprint at the facility by an impressive 21%.
AES went on to operate a second – and larger – site for the same company where the situation was even more dire in terms of skills shortages. “There, we delivered a 35% reduction in cost of fuel and carbon footprint. Over the years, that has enabled us to expand our footprint within the company to five sites.”
During this time, AES has reconfigured steam generation facilities, introduced changes to fuel and ash handling systems, addressed health and safety issues and improved the general reliability of the plants.
Although cost constraints remain a priority, Williams says that sustainability – especially for multinationals operating in South Africa – is becoming a big focus. The reduction of emissions and waste, choice of environmentally-friendly or ‘green’ fuels such as biomass or natural gas and water-saving have been clarified as priorities.
Frozen foods go ‘green’
On this point, AES recently assisted with an evaluation of conversion to natural gas by an internationally owned frozen foods manufacturer, which had made commitments to reduce the carbon footprint of its South African facilities.
“Our involvement extended from specification of a suitable boiler for the gas burner systems, site location, reticulation of the gas pipeline and engaging with gas vendors regarding price and availability of fuel,” Williams says.
An ongoing project at a much larger sister plant began with identifying a sustainable and cost-effective biomass route. The AES team has travelled to Europe and South America, reviewing between 12 and over 15 fuel and technology options in detail. Risk and fuel supply assessments culminated in a preliminary roll-out plan.
When it comes to saving water, Williams says that managing condensate, an inevitable by-product of the process, is “the low hanging fruit.”
“Even in instances where it has a much lower temperature, that condensate still has value. We can include this with any make-up water that goes back into the boilers and reduce water, fuel and chemical consumption for treatment purposes,” he notes.
Future-proofed energy and food processing
Change in the food and beverage processing and production industry requires ongoing and constant engagement with clients, Williams maintains.
“We walk through the reticulation process. We do thermal imaging and talk to them about whether or not steam traps are functioning correctly, make recommendations about things like reticulation dead-ends and where they can be isolated. Strategic input includes conducting a high-level energy audit – which provide very high-level cost impacts,” he says.
Then comes the innovation component, as demonstrated during a recent project: “We operate a biomass boiler with an economiser (or heat exchanger). Hot flue gas coming out of the boiler passes through this before it goes up the stack. We now circulate water going into the boiler through that heat exchanger to heat it – which reduces fuel usage.”
Williams believes that most food and beverage manufacturers are aware of the need to maximise efficiency and ensure that operations are sustainable. Although there are many high-tech operations in South Africa’s food and beverage sector, there are even more that have to continue to do the best they can with what they have.
However, small changes can have a large impact.
“AES’s role is to help optimise expansions and improvements to existing food and beverage production processes. It is very much a supportive, synergistic partnership. Together, we can make these companies more competitive in the marketplace, both locally and internationally,” Williams concludes.
AES media release.