The food sector is Europe largest manufacturing sector ahead of the automobile and chemical industries. It is made up of about 310.000 companies, with a high diversity both in production with different activity branches and in company size combining large multinational firms as well as small family firms. The food sector provides jobs for more than 4 million people creating an annual turnover higher than 900 billion euros.
Water is needed in huge amounts by the food and drink industry and it is a key issue due to its use in preparing raw materials and processing products. Therefore its quality standards are very stringent paying special attention to safety and health issues. This requirements make the number of reuse applications in the food sector limited and, in some cases, the water saving plans are only based on minimisation strategies.
Therefore, the development of new treatment concepts to combine technologies to produce water quality with a high standard dealing with the safety issues characteristic of this sector are necessary and need to be implemented, as it is mentioned in the strategic research agenda of the European Water Supply and Sanitation Technology Platform. These concepts together with new reuse approaches and global water management strategies will provide new opportunities for saving water in the food industry sector.
Four water consuming food companies from different branches of the industry have joined forces in close collaboration with leading water treatment suppliers and RTO within the AquaFit4Use project.
The work is focused on the integration of sustainable water use in the total concept of sustainable production centred in using alternative water sources and optimisation and control of high water consuming processes integrated with the implementation of new technologies.
Integration and implementation of tools and technologies to guarantee water quality for a sustainable water use in the food industry. These solutions will include:
- Screening and optimization of cleaning processes.
- Evaluation of alternative water use posibilities integrating new technologies, including:
o MBR systems.
o Heavy metal removal systems.
o Softening processes.
- Development of rapid detection tools for microbial water quality.
- Application of modelling and water quality management tools to evaluate water reuse options and their effect of water circuits.
A comprehensive data collection and screening of cleaning procedures in the food industry has been performed, evaluating alternative methods for implementing saving strategies in these processes.
Water circuits in factories of ALPRO, UNILEVER, NESTLE Waters and Conservas Gutarra have been described and saving potentials have been evaluated. This study has served as basis to establish the tests at pilot scale that are going to be carried out in the next period.
Pilot test for heavy metal removal by using different filter media are currently taking place in one Nestle Waters factory.