Among the European community there is growing interest in improving sustainability as set out in the objectives of the Europe 2020 economic strategy. The dairy sector is one of the main consumers of energy and water in the EU food industry. However, consumption of water and energy isn’t evenly distributed along the production chain; processing and feeding are the biggest offenders. The EU-funded ENTHALPY (Enabling the drying process to save energy and water, realising process efficiency in the dairy chain) initiative researched ways to improve the sustainability of dairy processing. Its objective was to develop ways to move dairy plant operations towards closed-loop systems for energy and water. In conventional dairy processing plants, energy is mostly lost through heat in the exhaust air, dried product and fines. Water, other resources and product are all lost in the humid exhaust air. However, exhaust air at conventional plants cannot be processed as the fines it contains would cause fouling of any equipment. To address these limitations, ENTHALPY scientists tested new technologies for implementation at different stages of dairy processing. These included radio frequency heating, solar thermal energy, mono-disperse atomising, dryer modelling, inline monitoring, enzymatic cleaning and membrane technology. The technologies were demonstrated at two pilot facilities to show their potential at an industrially relevant scale. With this combination of technologies, the scientists achieved a 45 % reduction in energy use compared to conventional processes. During cleaning, they reduced water consumption by 30 to 50 %, depending on the equipment that was being cleaned. The initiative’s results also showed that the new technologies had no detrimental effect on the quality of the product. This substantial reduction in energy use could be an important contribution to the ambition for a more sustainable dairy food chain. These technologies also have potential application beyond the dairy sector and could be adapted to meet the needs of other industries, such as pharmaceuticals.
Sustainability, dairy processing, energy and water, food industry, ENTHALPY, closed-loop system