Q-ton responds to the pressures of high energy prices

The high costs of energy consumption in Australia is becoming a great concern for the food and beverage industry, from the agricultural sector all the way through to the manufacturing and processing sector.

A recent US Studies Centre report, It doesn’t have to be this way: Australia’s Energy Crisis, indicated that Australia was struggling to keep energy costs down, with its manufacturing companies across the country facing much higher electricity and gas prices than their counterparts in the US.

Further, a report from the Australian Food and Grocery Council released in November last year showed that high energy costs were among the leading causes of falling capital investment in the food and grocery manufacturing sector.

Food and beverage manufacturing accounts for approximately 14 per cent of energy consumption within Australia’s manufacturing sector, according to federal government statistics. And, for most companies within the food and beverage sector, energy costs represent around 15 per cent of the total cost of operation.

With energy prices continuing to rise, finding ways of creating greater efficiencies in energy use is becoming critical for food and beverage manufacturers looking to cut costs. Moreover, transitioning to energy efficient production can help a company establish its reputation as an environmentally responsible enterprise within the community.

The most energy intensive processes within the food and beverage manufacturing industry are conveying, refrigeration, cooling, air conditioning, heating and boilers.

Process heating and steam production are a significant source of energy consumption for manufacturers. According to Australia’s Department of the Environment and Energy, boilers alone can account for around 20-60 per cent of energy costs for the typical industrial plant in Australia and represent 35 per cent of all potential energy efficiency improvements.

Reductions in energy use in this area can be achieved by a number of means, including via boosting the efficiency of heat production, heat containment and improved heat transfer, and by recovering heat for reuse. Other possibilities include alternatives provided by innovative heating solutions.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) hot water pumps are relatively new on the market. They have the ability to efficiently deliver sanitary hot water at 65-90°C and provide significant carbon and energy savings to food and beverage manufacturers.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries’ (MHI) Q-ton, an air-to-water heat pump, uses CO2 as a natural refrigerant for the delivery of hot water. Drawing air through an evaporator containing CO2 refrigerant – which absorbs heat through the air – the Q-ton uses a high-pressure two-stage compressor to raise its temperature. The heat from the refrigerant is used to generate hot water, which the Q-ton then stores in tanks.

Providing 3,000 to 100,000 litres of sanitary hot water daily, the Q-ton consumes 76 per cent less energy than an electric heater and 46 per cent less energy than a gas boiler, according to MHI. At the same time, it generates 74 per cent less CO2 emissions than an electric heater and 48 per cent less emissions than a gas boiler, making it both environmentally friendly and highly energy-efficient.

The Q-ton is able to be configured as a standalone unit as well as in modular configuration with up to 16 units in operation. Controllable from a touch screen, the unit offers programmability options and flexible operation not available with conventional hot water systems.

The flexibility of the Q-ton also extends to the conditions it can operate within. The unit can deliver hot water at low outdoor temperatures down to -25°C, making it suitable for food and beverage producers operating in cooler climates. This feature made it an optimal solution for the water heating needs of Shene Estate and Distillery, a 199-year old distillery located in Pontville, Tasmania.

Shene Estate produces award-winning gin and single-malt whiskeys, consuming approximately 6,000 litres every day, with multiple temperature changes required throughout the process. Ever-increasing electricity prices and expanding production saw the distillery abandon its instantaneous electric hot water heater and turn to the Q-ton.

Focusing on energy efficiency in this way not only can save food and beverage manufacturers in terms of the costs of production, it can also enhance a company’s reputation for environmental responsibility and enhance customer loyalty.

The difficulties of keeping the costs of energy consumption down will continue to be an issue for the food and beverage industry. However, as shown by the example of carbon dioxide hot water pumps, finding more energy efficient means of production can go some way to alleviating the burden.