Dutch meat processing plant Esa benefits from smart heat recovery
"Back in the late 1990s, ESA chose to make use of the heat released by a refrigeration plant with the aid of heat pumps and heat exchangers. As a result, we consumed less gas from the start than comparable companies with the same processes", Vonk says. "We have continued to fine-tune the technology with heat pumps and heat exchangers, which has continued to expand along with larger or new refrigeration systems. Every update has been applied. We have continued to embrace our philosophy. Particularly in these uncertain times with high energy prices, that steadfastness is now paying off".
ESA has been faced with a tough energy challenge in recent years. During that period, the company started processing substantially more meat and also had to comply with increasingly strict hygiene rules. For instance, 25% more sterilisation water is now required compared to a few years ago. Water that must be kept at a temperature of 85 degrees, which again requires a lot of extra gas. "The challenge is enormous", says Vonk, "but heat pumps and heat exchangers that use the heat released from refrigeration plants will help a lot".
"We can heat 165,000 cubic metres of water annually without the need for gas". 40% of that flow is production water heated to 60 degrees, 35% is cleaning water brought to a temperature of 55 degrees, and 25% is sterilisation water for the slaughter process, which is even heated up to 85 degrees. Vonk: "There are about 40,000 cubic metres of water that we don’t heat through the heat pumps and heat exchangers. Nor is that necessary because it is cold drinking or sanitary water".
ESA is a company that is growing, which requires additional gas. Yet, with the help of smart and optimally adjusted heat pumps and heat exchangers, ESA has been consuming relatively less gas. "There was 326,000 cubic metres of gas consumed here last year, equating to about 1 cubic metre per calf slaughtered. By comparison, in 2012, for example, it was 1.5 cubic metres per calf", Vonk explains. "Without heat pumps and heat exchangers, consumption under the current conditions would have been as high as 2 cubic metres of gas per calf. That would have amounted to a substantial consumption and a huge cost".
On the other hand, the impact on the technical support department is considerable. "The maintenance of the heat pumps and heat exchangers is partly outsourced, but we do the first-line stuff ourselves. It’s therefore essential that our technical team is up-to-date in terms of expertise and know-how. That requires training and broadening of knowledge", Vonk says.
The energy savings raise the question of whether it is possible to go completely gas-free at ESA. Vonk believes this is possible but he also argues that it is not necessarily desirable. "We can certainly fine-tune, but the optimum seems to have been more-or-less reached. The main reason is that ESA should be able to run continuously, and that requires a back-up system with gas-fired boilers. In addition, we need to be careful that less gas doesn’t lead to more electricity. Then the energy saving is still zero on balance".
At ESA, electricity is an even bigger cost item in veal production than gas. Here, too, the company can make substantial energy savings. Although this is more difficult than with gas, says Vonk. "With electricity, there are fewer tweaks to be made. It is mostly the little things that help: a slightly lower cooling regime at weekends, a lower office temperature or turning the lights off more often. These are things we all already do".
According to Vonk, the key lies not so much in using less power but in using green or self-generated power instead. However, solar panels on the roof were never a real option because ESA has what it calls piping lanes there. That made laying solar panels difficult and costly. "This new year, we are looking at an interesting alternative in our car park. The idea of a canopy with solar panels over parking spaces is a very promising option that we are considering. In this way, we continue to look at how we can optimise our energy consumption".
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