Business growth is increasing our water needs.
Investments in water reuse and recycling will reduce our reliance on well water.
New plan to tackle change
Water optimisation is, at all times, about expanding our ability to reuse and recycle water extracted from whey and reducing our reliance on well water supplies. During 2022, we have turned our attention to a series of developments that will impact the balance between whey water and well water.
One of the challenges we are facing is that our whey suppliers are increasingly concentrating the whey prior to transport. While this makes sense in terms of reducing carbon emissions, it means less water is entering our plants with the whey – water that we rely on to minimise our use of well water.
At the same time, Danmark Protein is expanding signifi- cantly, with the construction of two large filtration areas now underway and further expansions on the horizon. To address these changes, we have evaluated the consequences in terms of our water needs and environmental commitments. The objective is to develop a new scope and ambition for our water workstream.
Our major investment in a technical water facility has a central role in our water recycling programme. The facility is placed close to the local treatment plant that receives the wastewater discharge from Danmark Protein, ARINCO and the neighbouring Arla Foods Nr. Vium dairy.
Operation began in late 2021, when the wastewater treatment plant began sending cleaned wastewater to the facility for further filtration and upgrading to technical water. When running at full capacity, the facility supplies Danmark Protein with 500m3 of technical water a day for use in the cooling towers.
In 2022, our efforts have focused on optimising the facili- ty and reducing operating costs. We are now planning the next expansion up to 900m3 a day – a step on the way to the maximum daily recycling capacity of 2,000m3, which is equivalent to around half of Danmark Protein’s current well water consumption.
The DRIP Partnership
Initiation of the technical water facility began with our involvement in the DRIP Partnership. Over seven years, the partnership brought five research institutes and 13 companies together to develop new technology that would cut well water use in the food industry. The recycling of wastewater into technical water stems from the partnership’s ‘water-fit-for-purpose’ concept. According to the partnership’s final report from 2022, the participating companies reduced their water consumption by 20% due to this and other DRIP-inspired solutions.
Reducing water consumption without impacting product quality and food safety is an ongoing priority. In 2022, our external partner Ecolab conducted a total plant assessment (TPA) of Danmark Protein and ARINCO to identify new opportunities for water savings. This has resulted in a compendium of recommendations, ranging from quick wins to larger investments. The water savings will be accompanied by reductions in energy consumption, chemical use and product loss.
Further efforts have gone into improving the transparency of water consumption data and increasing data availability by installing more flow sensors in production. This not only improves our ability to measure and compare performance across sites. Better data capture has also enabled us to expand our on-site water monitors, giving process operators a better overview and ensuring a fast response to a sudden spike in water consumption.
Cleaning in place (CIP) processes are critical to securing high product quality. As such, they account for a large share of our well water consumption, making them an obvious subject of scrutiny during the week-long TPAs.
At ARINCO in 2021, successful pilot trials used sensors to track contaminants in rinse water and indicate when processing equipment is sufficiently clean. This delivered a 24% reduction in water use and 14% reduction in cleaning time. We see this data-driven approach as the way forward for managing continuous CIP improvements across our fully owned sites – with big potential from a water and energy-saving perspective.
Water-saving investments at our joint venture sites in- clude the installation of new CIP equipment at MVI in the UK. Combined with the use of recycled whey water, this has reduced water consumption by 10%.
Filtration research and development
Whey protein isolate (WPI) production is Danmark Protein’s most water-intensive process. Over the past year, our innovation centre has developed an online filtration monitoring system with potential to reduce water use during the process by around 50%. Due for trial in January 2023, the system promises additional energy savings by eliminating a step in WPI processing.
A further project to replace ultrafiltration with electrodialysis (ED) separation technology could bring further water savings to our whey processing lines in the future. ED is an efficient means of removing minerals from the whey with less water, energy and chemical addition. Other possibilities include using ED to reduce the salt load of wastewater before discharge to the wastewater treatment plant.