Picking up a World Food Innovation Award is enough to make any pig squeal, and the team at Suez Advanced Solutions were elated to win at this year’s ceremony for their enhanced ice pigging technology for the food industry. Offering benefits in terms of effluent reduction, product recovery and efficiency, the ice pigging solution can provide a return on investment in a matter of just one to two years, depending on the application.
Developed almost a decade ago at the University of Bristol in the UK, the ice pigging technology has been perfected and honed over the years to match the stringent hygienic standards of food processing. Suez has worked with the team in Bristol to adapt the system for food industry application, finally purchasing both the spin-off from the University of Bristol, ADHQ Engineering, plus the patent for the technology in order to pursue its commercial implementation.
“If you look at alternative methods for cleaning pipes, there are none that can navigate the sometimes complex geometries and odd fittings involved in a food or beverage plant,” said Suez director of ice pigging Matthew Stephenson, who explained that as a result of the complexity of piping residual product can easily be trapped and involved significant quantities of water to expel. This excessive use of water, not to mention the loss of the entrained product, leads to value being flushed away through a food processor’s expensive effluent streams.
To avoid this, Suez’s automated ice pigging technology involves flushing ice slurry through the pipes, thereby reducing water usage and recouping significant amounts of otherwise lost product in the process. The equipment operates much like similar ice pigging technologies used in other industries, in that the ice slurry must be kept agitated to prevent it becoming one solid block; and then it must be pumped – using special pumps that prevent the liquid and solid parts separating.
All this is achieved in Suez’s AQL 500, which, with its 500 litre capacity, can meet the continuous demand for ice slurry over the time period of a company’s cleaning regime, several times a day. The ingredients of the slurry – the ice incorporating water and a “softening” ingredient that suppresses the freezing point of the ice such as salt, sugar, lactose – can be selected according to the requirements of a specific application.
“Even in the most complex of piping structures, we can still recover 80% to 90% of the product in the system,” said Stephenson. “When you’re looking at an average value of £1 per litre of product, you’re talking savings in the region of £100,000 or €100,000 quite rapidly, depending on frequency of cleaning between batch runs.”
Coupling the recuperation of valuable product with the reduction in the pressures being put on a company’s effluent streams, there are clear benefits to be had from investment in ice pigging as a solution. In addition, when cleaning pipes of ketchup can take just 30 seconds using the AQL 500, speed is also of the essence.
“One large FMCG manufacturer we are working with has said that the improvement in speed and method of cleaning that our system offers has enabled it to clean the plant faster and optimise its operations on a global scale,” said Stephenson.
The AQL 500 has been the subject of rigorous testing in food and beverage plants and features the latest hygienic valves and other components that make it suitable for today’s stringent hygienic food processing environments. Once Suez has assessed a plant and its requirements, a dedicated AQL 500 and ice slurry solution is proposed, ready for plug in and play. Uptake is already rapid, due to the benefits involved not only for the bottom line but also for companies’ environmental strategies, but winning the World Food Innovation Award serves as a valuable acknowledgement of the acceptance of the technology in the food industry, according to Matt.
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