On the road to sustainable food production: How to reduce energy, water and waste in oat beverage processing

As consumer demand for environmentally responsible food and beverages continues to surgei, producers are looking for opportunities to save energy, conserve water and minimise waste in their operations. This is true in particular for producers of oat-based beverages, who are riding a wave of popularity with consumers. By investing in the right equipment, considerable reductions can be made in utility consumption and waste generation throughout the production process.

But where to begin? The potential investments required to reach sustainability targets might seem overwhelming. Lilly Li, sustainability manager for Processing Solutions and Equipment at Tetra Pak, suggests a four-step approach: avoid recover, optimise and neutralise.

“The best way to save energy and water is not to spend it to begin with,” Li says. “Where energy and water consumption can’t be avoided, they should be recovered. Optimising efficiency will also have a positive impact on resource conservation in oat beverage production.” 

Avoid unnecessary resource use

Li says the key here is to use the most efficient equipment. When using in-line blending instead of batch blending equipment for beverage production, for example, we typically see cuts in steam, water and chemical consumption for cleaning by over 25%ii. That’s thanks to fewer cleaning cycles, smaller volumes and fewer and smaller tanks required for in-line blending compared to batch blending equipment.

Cut steam, water and chemical consumption for cleaning by over 25% with in-line blending

With in-line blending instead of batch blending in beverage production, we typically see 25% lower steam, water and chemical consumption for cleaning.

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The homogenizer has a crucial role in an oat beverage line, determining the stability, mouthfeel and appearance of the product. With our highly efficient HD100 homogenization device, the pressure required for producing oat beverages is typically just 200 bar, which keeps energy use to a minimum. Furthermore, by choosing a homogenizer that can handle high condensate temperatures, you can save up to 80% on water consumption and up to 70% on steam consumption in the homogenization stepiii. A serial cooling system with oil temperature sensor and cooling water flow regulator in the crankcase reduces cooling water consumption considerablyiv

Cut water consumption by 80% and steam consumption 70% in homogenization step with the right homogenizer

In many homogenizers, steam condensate must be cooled from 140°C down to 60°C before it can be used. But with a homogenizer that handles higher condensate temperatures – like the Tetra Pak® Homogenizer – you use 80% less water and 70% less steam for cooling the condensate in the homogenization step.

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Referring to Tetra Pak’s sustainability goals for its best-practice lines for oat beverages and other products, Li says: “We are putting a huge amount of effort into equipment innovation and making our equipment, lines and solutions more efficient, with a target that they reduce water use, CO2 emissions and product losses by 50% by 2030, compared with 2019v.” These targets are in line with international agreements reached during the COP26 climate change summit, which set the goal of achieving net zero emissions by mid-centuryvi.

Recover the resources you must use

There’s no way to totally avoid using resources in any beverage production, of course, but Li says implementing solutions to recover water, energy and product lost during production are an essential part of the sustainability equation.

“Wherever there’s excess heat or water in the process, like condensate from the steam system, there is potential to recover it and put it back elsewhere in the process,” Li says. “This can also sometimes apply to product losses.”

Li points to cleaning as another area where resource recovery can have a huge impact — including both water and chemicals used for cleaning. 

“In some plants the cleaning process consumes 60 to 70% of the water used in production,” Li says. “There are opportunities to close the water loop, to filter and disinfect rinse water and return it to the water supply for reuse.”

Better sustainability through optimisation

The process of optimising a plant’s operations to achieve sustainability goals begins with assessing the current process and identifying opportunities for improvement. This involves measuring energy and water consumption and comparing the findings with industry standards. 

The gaps that are revealed will be able to guide the revised procedures and equipment upgrades to close them. “This is like when a patient goes to the doctor,” Li says. “You diagnose the problem and see where you can help the patient get better.”

Getting better usually means streamlining and automating the production process. We optimise our heating units with features like hibernation mode. Hibernation mode is when heating units are set to go into power-saving mode during the sterile water circulation standby phase — which reduces steam, water and electricity consumptionvii,viii 

“These new technologies can dramatically reduce the environmental footprint and make the production process much more sustainable,” Li says. 

Use less steam, water and energy with hibernation mode on heating units

Optimising heating units with features like hibernation mode reduces steam, water and energy consumption. Hibernation mode is when heating units are set to go into power-saving mode during the sterile water circulation standby phase.

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A final step: neutralisation

Once oat beverage producers have exhausted all possibilities to avoid, recover and optimise, there remains another option to reach net zero emissions: neutralising their remaining emissions in order to achieve targets.

“For example, we support our customers to decarbonise their production process by using renewable electricity instead of heat energy generated from fossil fuels,” says Li.

Li concludes: “We know that many oat beverage producers have the ambition to be at the forefront of efforts to improve the sustainability of their operations, so the good news is that by avoiding, recovering, optimising and then neutralising, there really is a broad toolkit that they can employ.”