Lessons learned from industry giants on water in the food industry

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Søren Nøhr Bak

Søren Nøhr Bak

Senior Expertise Director - Water & Sustainability

Water is essential for the Food & Beverage sector, and the whole industry is bursting with new technologies and approaches to water usage. The following piece is an insight to recent lessons learned from some of the giants within the Food & Beverage industry when it comes to reducing water usage, reusing and recycling water.

October 19, 2021

There is no doubt that we during the last few years have witnessed an enormous shift in the Food & Beverage industry towards more sustainability. This implies both the concrete food products, the packaging, and the production methods. Water is obviously one of the essential elements in this new focus, due to its crucial role in the process and in the products themselves.

Recently, a series of experts within the Food & Beverage sector companies met in Denmark at the IFC Water Congress, Water in the Food Industry. Reduce – Reuse – Recycle. The different speakers at this event gave some important insights into what is happening right now on the water usage front within the Food & Beverage industry. Many of the latest innovations and developments was presented and discussed during the Congress.

NIRAS is involved in many water optimization projects in the Food & Beverage as well as Life Science industries globally, and we contributed to the Congress with an input on the resent case on water recycling at Carlsberg’s plant in Fredericia in Denmark together with group production director Anders Kokholm from Carlsberg. But more on this below.

F&B industry has great impact on new water technologies

One of the main lessons from the congress was that the private industry has a tremendous impact when it comes to introducing new water technologies. The demand for urgent change in the F&B industry is driving innovation.

William Sarni, founder and CEO at Water Foundry, emphasised the impact which private industry has on introducing new technologies on water. He explained about a start-up community, which is supported by the 100+ Accelerator ( program initiated by ABInBev, and now supported by The Coca-Cola Company, Colgate-Palmolive, and Unilever.

Another element of water within industry is the holistic approach. Will Sarni introduced the term “Watershed Health” building on understanding the watershed issues of the watersheds that we as industry are sharing with the other stakeholders. Together with them the F&B industry has an interest in ensuring a sustainable management of the watershed.

Dairy sector and ingredients: FrieslandCampina, MMS, and Arla Foods

Within the dairy sector, there has also been made great progress regarding the usage, reuse and recycling of water. A company like FrieslandCampina has shown a diverse approach towards sustainability and water, according to Gerrit M. Westhoff, Director Technology of the Dutch dairy giant.

It was also demonstrated that merely by having control of the water consumption of a production site this can result in water savings of at least 10%. An element of special interest within this industry is the opportunity to reuse water coming from the raw material – milk.

Arla Foods Ingredients and MMS are also at the forefront of implementing new water technologies. At the IFC Water Congress, Thomas Lauritsen, Anders Harpøth and Niels Osterland shared insights into some of the considerations behind the technologies that have led to the establishment of Arla’s new water recycling plant in Nr. Vium in Jutland, Denmark. During the first stage, this impressive water plant will produce technical water for the production.

Arla Food Ingredients and MMS also shared a view of the remarkable and rapidly expanding production plant in Nr. Vium. The factory has more than 70 different membrane filtration plants and utilises this to produce water from the milk. This water is then used to cleaning the production equipment. Hereby, the factory can make substantial savings on their water redraw.

Within the dairy industry, Nestlé is undoubtedly a leading company when it comes to striving towards better water usage in the global food industry. According to Carlo Galli, technical manager for water resources at Nestlé, the company now has 20 Zero factories around the world, which are capable of operating exclusively from the water in the milk provided.

Beer and beverage: Probably the most water efficient brewery in the world

The Carlsberg Group has positioned itself at the forefront of the new water technology in the brewing industry by opening its new water recycling plant in May, 2021, at its Fredericia Brewery in Denmark.

At the IFC Water Congress, group production director Anders Kokholm from from Carlsberg and I (in my capacity of expertise director at NIRAS) presented the learnings from implementation of the large recycling plant at Carlsberg Fredericia, where NIRAS played an integral part of planning and implementing the whole project.

The plant now enables Carlsberg to operate this facility with ‘probably’ the lowest water ratio within the beer industry. An important element in this project has been to assess, validate and demonstrate that recycled water can safely be recycled for cleaning of process equipment and packaging materials.

With the recycling plant now in operation on a large scale, it will enable Carlsberg a water recycling saving of 500.000 m3 on a yearly basis.

Meat industry: New possibilities for water usage

Within the meat industry one of the major obstacles to reducing water usage has actually come from authorities and consumers that are worried how less water usage will be able to guarantee sufficiently hygienic production methods.

According to Karen Sørensen, Danish Technological Institute, there is a great task at hand convincing both food safety authorities and consumers that the use of new technologies and innovative methods can indeed be utilised without jeopardizing food safety.

Having overcome these obstacles, Danish Crown will soon put a new water recycling plant in operation, which will utilise water from the clean areas to make initial washing of pigs.

New legislation helps create new water solutions

The focus on improved water usages and recycling has also reached the political spheres in different countries. One such example is Belgium, where government now are changing the discharge rules to receiving water in order increase the feasibility to discharge the more concentrated rejects from the RO plant typical being used in water recycling.

Kris Lambert, managing director at Veolia Water Technologies also exemplified this by mentioning that there currently exist 20 large F&B factories in in Belgium and surrounding countries that are employing water recycling.

Hans-Jørgen Albrechtsen from DTU Water (Technical University of Denmark), Christina Reenberg Skov from Danish Veterinary and Food Administration and Lisbeth Truelstrup Hansen from DTU FOOD (Technical University of Denmark ) put it all together in how water, food legislation and risk assessment makes it possible in a controlled and safe way to Reduce – Reuse – Recycle water.

These insights from leading F&B companies, and academic institutions show how we together are enabling opportunities for cutting down the water consumption within the F&B industry. However, there are still remaining challenges of how to transform individual projects into industrial standards, which can be accepted by all stakeholders.

Nonetheless, it appears that the integration of water into the common risk assessment will be a key tool in moving forward towards establishing new industrial standards on water. There is no doubt that the F&B industry possesses both the initiative and the innovation to move forward, so hopefully this will also be reflected in the will to find common standards.

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Søren Nøhr Bak

Søren Nøhr Bak

Senior Expertise Director - Water & Sustainability

Aarhus, Denmark

+45 2025 7033