Waste sucks! How vacuum technology can reduce wastewater

Friday, 06 March, 2015

In food processing, waste can beget waste: disposing of non-edible waste through wastewater and the cleaning of equipment can waste considerable quantities of water.

Modern-day consumers demand more than just a quality product: they also want assurance that the product was made using responsible manufacturing practices and conscientious handling of natural resources.

In a bid to reduce the amount of wastewater produced in food processing, Fraunhofer UMSICHT has launched the BioSuck project with an international working group on redesigning waste management in the food industry.

The group has found that, by suctioning off the waste using vacuum technology, less wastewater is incurred, which, in turn, reduces the disposal costs. The waste is transported hygienically and concentrated via the vacuum pipes and can be recycled or used for bioenergy.

The project aims to develop a system and guidelines to outline when and where the installation of vacuum pipes for waste collection is advisable.

Win-win: saving money while improving sustainability

Installing vacuum lines for waste transport has several benefits: water use and costs are reduced, and wastewater disposal costs can be reduced by up to 50 to 80%, depending on industry sector.

By using negative pressure, food waste residues reach a collection site hygienically and quickly via a pipe system. From here, there are several options for disposal. Residual waste can be incinerated, converted to biogas or bioethanol in fermentation plants, or valorised into a lignite coal-like product by means of hydro-thermal carbonisation (HTC).

Nutrients extracted from organic waste can be fed directly back into the manufacturing process or used as a source material for nutrient-rich fertilisers.

To save space, the thin vacuum lines can be installed on the ceiling. They reportedly prevent odour nuisance and can be adjusted to changes in the production process quite easily. This type of system also prevents rodents and other pests from accessing the waste - something of vital importance in the food industry.

Support system

While such a system makes good economic sense, it can help companies improve their image in terms of sustainability. With this in mind, the BioSuck project team is developing guidelines and a system that supports food industry decision-makers with strategic decisions and planning with respect to resource management.

Part of this process involves the waste streams from a range of food industries (beverages, dairy products, meat, fish, etc) being inspected for nutrients by means of spectral analysis. These analyses are entered into the system’s database for reference. Additionally, practice-focused case studies are integrated into the decision support system.

Fraunhofer UMSICHT is designing a test pilot system for waste concentration by means of vacuum technology that will simulate the practical application on a small scale. The database will indicate exactly where waste is incurred, how it is best collected and what a further utilisation of waste might look like.

Further plans include a sustainability analysis of the technologies and processes, and an assessment of the environmental impacts to identify opportunities for improvement.

More information about the BioSuck project is available from www.biosuck.eu.

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