Rising energy costs are a huge motivator for any manufacturer to find ways to increase energy efficiency in their processes and plants. According to U.S. EPA, energy ranks third among costs for food manufacturers, behind raw materials and labor, yet for years has been viewed as a fixed expense and one not as easily managed. With new technology now available, the industry has substantial potential for energy efficiency improvement, which can mean significant cost savings for an industry with relatively thin margins compared to other manufacturing sectors.
It is estimated that 40 percent of the value of processed food is added through energy intensive manufacturing (1). Process heating and cooling systems have the greatest energy requirements for food manufacturing and are a very necessary part of the system to maintain food safety.
Something that these processes all share in common with other types of manufacturing is the need to use energy to heat and cool - through the use of boilers, heat exchangers, pipes, furnaces and refrigeration units. In every heating or cooling process, there is heat loss and gain. By reducing that, manufacturers not only reduce the energy used in those processes, they can also improve the process itself and the consistency of the product.
A new technology that is making changes in the food manufacturing industry is a family of nanotechnology based insulation coatings by Industrial Nanotech, Inc. under the brand name of Nansulate®. The coatings are based upon a patented technology which incorporates a safe microsized particle with nano-sized internal architecture into a low VOC water-based acrylic latex coating. The nanocomposite has extremely low thermal conduction and a hydrophobic nature. What this offers to manufacturers in any industry is the ability to easily insulate heat process and cooling equipment, while also protecting it from corrosion and mold growth.
One early adopter from the dairy industry knows the benefits of this new technology well. Ultraspin Technology in Australia used the coating to insulate a 5m2 outdoor stainless steel tank which was used for melting butterfat. David Morabito, Process Engineer explained, “We achieved a measurable difference in the contents of this tank...The outside was previously too hot to touch. With three coats applied, the touch was now warm to touch and there was a visual improvement to the melting efficiency of the product inside.”
Significant energy savings have been experienced in many industries, with textile manufacturing being a leader in adoption of the insulation technology. Henateks, a textile customer, coated all their heat producing equipment with the technology. They saved over $460,000 USD in energy costs in 2008 due to use of the coatings, and reduced their natural gas use by 1,097,447 m3. Their material cost for the project was $200,000 USD and their payback period was 7 months. Overall energy costs were reduced by 20%.
In addition to offering insulation, corrosion prevention and resistance to mold growth, the coatings are also clear, which allows for visual inspection of the substrate surface without costly removal. The company’s GP product was awarded NSF nonfood compound registration (formerly USDS registration) under the R2 category, which was done specifically for the food industry. (Reg. #138638)
Food safety being a main concern of food manufacturers has meant that there are many processes that have been nearly impossible to insulate because of the porous nature of traditional types of insulation and its propensity to trap dust, dirt, mold and other contaminates. This has been a contributing factor to energy consumption being categorized as a fixed expense in the past. Being a “clean” insulation is one of the unique benefits of using insulation in a coating form, which is brushed or sprayed onto equipment, and won’t trap moisture, mold or dirt, which can contaminate food processes. With the ability to insulate equipment that could not safely be insulated previously, food manufacturers can now reap substantial cost savings.
New technology typically comes with a high price tag, but these coatings are an exception to that notion. Applications can be done while the lines are running and the ability to significantly reduce costs without a large capital expenditure is making this technology a unique and viable option for the food manufacturing industry. Add to this the fact that most clients typically see a return on their initial investment in 6-18 months, and many in less than a year, and this retrofit is a solution that makes sense.
Due to the energy intense processing costs of the food manufacturing industry, companies stand to benefit from substantial decreases in energy usage for heat/cold processes. The bottom line is that new technology can convert formerly fixed energy costs to manageable. Allowing manufacturers to lower energy costs and significantly improve profit margins.
1. Energy Trends in Selected Manufacturing Sectors: Opportunities and Challenges for Environmentally Preferable Energy Outcomes. March 2007 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency