Plant baking focus: Bakers wipe the slate green

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Related tags: Carbon trust, Baking

Plant baking focus: Bakers wipe the slate green
As energy costs rise and green initiatives move up the agenda, the 
baking sector has become a target for change, reports Anne Bruce

What do you get if you mix blue and yellow? Green. And, fittingly, the coalition government has vowed to be the "greenest government ever".

So green in fact that the Carbon Trust, a not-for-profit company that receives funds from government, has so far escaped any public spending cuts. And the good news for plant bakers is that the Carbon Trust is confident that although it is still "confirming its overall funding" for the next year, its Industrial Energy Efficiency Accelerator (IEEA) programme will continue as planned.

The IEEA programme sees it working with range of UK industrial sectors offering funding to help them work out ways to drive down their carbon emissions and their energy bills. It was recently rolled out to plant bakers in conjunction with the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) under the Federation of Bakers. The baking sector is being targeted as its carbon emissions are 570,000t/year and the 89 big industrial bakeries in the UK produce a large part of that.

So are we going to start seeing wind turbines at Warburtons? Alternative fuels at Allied? Hydrocracking at Hovis? Al-Karim Govindji, technology acceleration manager at the Carbon Trust, says that it is more basic than that.

Tins, ovens and heat recovery have already been identified as the areas where possible big wins could be made, and are areas in which trials will be funded.

The Carbon Trust wants proposals from consortia of bakers and academics and other institutions on trials of new energy efficient technologies, processes and equipment in these areas innovations that could then be widely adopted in the industry.

Changing practices in these areas could cut the sector's emissions by around 8.5%, it says.

Costs covered by the funding could include a pilot trial in a research facility, in addition to a full-scale trial on site. Several months of monitoring to assess the carbon and energy savings achieved and to build a business case for the industry could also be funded.

The Carbon Trust will provide up to £250,000 per project (or, in exceptional instances, up to £500,000) towards a maximum of 60% of project costs, depending on state aid rules for the project type and size of company, as well as value for money offered.

Monitoring energy use

This will be stage two of the Carbon Trust IEEA project in the plant baking sector. For the first stage, which started early this year, a group of industrial bakers volunteered to have energy use monitored at their bakeries. The sites involved were at Irwin's in Portadown, Northern Ireland, Jackson's Bakery in Hull and Allied Bakeries' Runcorn bakery.

Data gathered from this process was used to work out which three big energy wastage hotspots to tackle in stage two. Govindji explains that the Carbon Trust wanted to hone in on situations where there was new ground to cover. He explains: "We chose areas where there had not been innovation in the past, or where trials had been ineffective."

For instance, moving from steel to a material with a lower thermal mass, such as thermoplastics in bread baking tins.

'Clunky' Alusteel tins are used by industrial bakers across the UK. Using a more energy efficient material could see savings of 23% of the overall energy use of a bakery, says Govindji. Previous trials had been unsuccessful: for example, in one trial of thermoplastic tins, the bread had stuck to the tins. But this issue could perhaps be ironed out. On heat recovery and on oven combustion there had been no trials as yet involving direct fired ovens, Govindji says, and savings could be considerable.

He comments: "In bakeries, the prover, oven and cooler account for the majority of energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions, so that is where we looked for savings.

"We found that heat loss from ovens through flue gas can be cut significantly if excess air levels are reduced for example, by managing combustion conditions more closely with automated control systems."

Stage one of the process had also identified common issues where energy usage in plant bakeries could be improved, simply by observing best practice, Govindji says.

These included oven integration, switching off ovens and scheduling, plus setting speed controls on motors. However, these were not the sort of problems that needed any innovation to address, just changes in working practice, and so were not taken forward.

Nick Law, operations director at Allied Bakeries, which took part in stage one, comments: "Energy consumption plays a significant contribution to the carbon footprint of our business. The work we have done with the IEEA programme has enabled us to gain a greater understanding of our energy usage, which is key to driving improvement as part of our journey to reduce the environmental impact of our business."

Northern Irish plant baker Irwin's also participated in stage one. Niall Irwin, technical director, describes it as a "thought-provoking exercise" that has helped his company to assess ways in which it can work more energy efficiently.

Irwin's looked at refrigeration and cooling and moved one of its refrigerators to free air cooling, where air is cooled and recirculated.

Mixers and provers also contributed substantially to energy consumption at Irwin's bakery, he says. But becoming energy efficient is not achieved without pain, he comments.

Baking tin issues

Take, for example, baking tins. Irwin's has 1,500 to 1,800 sets of two tins per plant line. These are made from the hard-wearing Alusteel, which is a combination of aluminium and steel. Replacing so many tins would be a big cost to the business (although, admittedly, the lining of the tins has to be replaced on a regular basis). Irwin outlines some other drawbacks: "It's a big loss heating them. But if you make them lighter they get damaged more easily. Aluminium is also used widely on baking tins, particularly in America, but lifespan is less and cost is more and they too are more easily damaged."

With bread requiring high temperatures of up to 240°C to bake, the choice of plastic-based materials is further narrowed, Irwin adds. Indeed, the crux of the industry's 570,000t carbon problem is that the process of baking does not lend itself to energy efficiency.

This was recently highlighted by Professor Alain Le Bail, co-ordinator of an EU-funded project called EU-Freshbake, which looked at developing more energy-efficient ovens.

His report points out that baking requires the highest temperatures, bread is a low-density material (90% air) and the occupation ratio in an oven is small. Then there is the energy required for preheating the oven and then extra energy demanded for the steaming as part of the baking process.

But despite these inherent issues, high-tech energy-saving options are gaining profile as energy costs rise and energy moves up the political agenda. Stewart Morris, director of plant bakery equipment supplier EPP, says: "There is no doubt that UK plant bakers have moved energy efficiency much further up the agenda when looking at projects that involve installing new lines."

EPP energy efficient solutions include a heat recovery system for ovens that converts large portions of the energy used into hot water. This can then be reused for other applications.

"There is, however, still a long, long way to go and I believe we have hardly scratched the surface," Morris says.

"The situation is not much different in the rest of Europe.

"As a supplier of equipment to the sector, we know it us up to us to present the energy efficient case and clearly illustrate how the concepts and solutions for improving energy consumption in bakeries can bring major benefits to the industry."

The impact of rising energy costs on bakery businesses is certainly a strong incentive for bakers to take their minds off baking and focus on developing energy-efficient technology.

Take the situation on baking tins. Perhaps in the past the lack of durability of lighter tins, made from aluminium, for example, was a deal-breaker.

The expense of frequently replacing lightweight tins versus the cost of heating the Alusteel tins made Alusteel the cheaper option. Or maybe it was just not worth developing usable thermoplastic solutions. But now, as energy costs rise, the sums are different.

Whether your concern is the environmental cost or just bottom line costs, finding a viable alternative is in everyone's interest.

The deadline for applications to the Carbon Trust for funding for trials is December 14. Perhaps it might be better to hurry.

Key contacts:

  • Allied Bakeries - 01628 764 300
  • Carbon Trust - 0800 085 2005
  • EU-Freshbake - 00 33 251 785 473
  • European Process Plant - 01372 745 558
  • FDF - 020 7836 2460
  • Federation of Bakers - 020 7420 7190
  • Irwin's Bakery - 0800 328 5120

Related topics: Bakery

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