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Cutting energy consumption in the food and drink sector



A specialist ‘supply-on-demand’ drying technology developed by a UK Knowledge Transfer Partnership could yield significant energy savings for food and drink manufacturers.

Hertfordshire University joined with UK drying specialist Secomak to create a drying machine offering significant energy savings. Through a UK government-funded Knowledge Transfer Partnership, engineers from the academic and industrial worlds produced a system using compressed and blown air that greatly reduces power needs.

Secomak designers believe the Powerstrip system could save millions of euro in energy costs for food and drink manufacturers. The machine can be used to dry a range of products and consumer goods in the food and drink sector, such as bottles, cans or even fruit and vegetables. It may also be customised to dry containers, sheet metal or plastic extrusions, and could therefore be utilised in a range of manufacturing processes.

The European Commission concluded in an environmental impact of products (EIPRO) report in 2006 that food and drink products account for 20 to 30% of the total environmental impact of EU consumption.

At present, drying machines are high energy users and account for 17% of UK industrial energy consumption. Powerstrip uses supply-on-demand technology. The sensor-equipped machine turns on only when a product needs to be dried, switching itself off when not needed. Current systems used by food and drink manufacturers remain on constantly during the production process, wasting energy. The supply-on-demand feature ensures energy consumption is directly proportional to product throughput – leading to a 60% reduction in energy consumption.

“Supply on demand on a production line is similar to the stopping of a hybrid car engine when stationary,” says Secomak product development manager David Dell. If this new drying machine was adopted across the UK manufacturing sector, Secomak believes it would save 3.7 million tonnes of CO2 emissions. While this is less than 0.5% of UK annual emissions, it is nonetheless more than Malta’s total CO2 emissions per year.

Beyond saving energy through efficient drying methods, the UK’s Carbon Trust has pinpointed five areas where energy reductions could be made: heating and hot water; process controls; compressed air; refrigeration and motors and drives.

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Helping businesses to develop

The Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTP) programme helps UK businesses to improve their competitiveness and productivity through the better use of knowledge, technology and skills that reside within the UK knowledge base. KTPs involve a partnership between a business and an academic institution such as university, further education college or research and technology organisation to enable the company to access skills and expertise to help the business develop.

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