Improving energy efficiency of cold chains

The food and beverage sector is the EU’s largest manufacturing sector in terms of employment and added value, with a significant commercial surplus. Furthermore, EU food specialties are highly appreciated abroad. Over the last 10 years, EU food and beverage exports have doubled to more than €90 billion and contributing to a positive balance of almost €30 billion.

In this sector, there is also a high potential to improve energy efficiency in cold chains and reduce its annual demand with low or medium investments by 10 to 35 %. In this context, ESCAN and the Spanish Federation of Food and Beverage Industries (FIAB) are developing in Spain the ICCEE H2020 project (Improving Cold Chain Energy Efficiency), offering technical assistance to manufacturing companies and logistics chains to reduce their energy bill and improve the operations of cold systems.

Renovating old and decentralised industrial refrigeration and freezing systems produces positive side effects such as an increase in productivity and quality due to better control of energy parameters of manufacturing plants. It improves heat recovery capacity generated by compressors in new larger systems that avoid starting heat generators (such as boilers) with the cost reduction associated.

Moreover, following the reduction of solar photovoltaic investment costs and the larger experience in the operation and maintenance of these systems Europe wide, more and more industrial companies switch to solar PV systems. Solar photovoltaic systems match to a great extent with the power needed to produce the cold for the food and beverage industries. During summer, the electric chiller consumption increases significantly, when the sun provides the larger amount of energy for solar PV production.

Thanks to the project conducted by ESCAN and FIAB, a meat industry company of Northern Spain improved its refrigeration processes. It produces 1000 tonnes per year of high-quality cured ham. The management’s motivation for replacing the refrigeration systems was based on three factors: the need to renew the refrigeration equipment which was still using old technology; its high energy consumption; and the desire to innovate and improve the industrial processes.

The company initially had 16 autonomous cold production units. The improvement carried out consisted in replacing all the autonomous equipment with a new centralised room with two ammonia compressors of over 200 kW in total and an associated heat recovery system. This thermal energy makes it possible to reduce the consumption of the current hot water boilers. Thanks to this new cooling system, energy savings have been close to 30 % and an economic saving of 100 000 euros has been achieved in addition to other non-energy savings.