42 Technology helps cook up a new industrial fuel switching strategy for food industry
Cambridgeshire consultancy 42 Technology has played an important role in government-funded research to identify carbon-cutting fuel solutions for the UK food industry.
St Ives based 42T was deployed by Burton’s Foods – now operating as Fox’s Burton’s Companies (FBC) UK under a Ferrero-related company – to research potential electrification of the company’s gas-fired industrial baking ovens, used for biscuits and other products, to help cut its carbon ‘foodprint.’
Cost is one of the key considerations of such a move and the results of the study showed that although there are suitable electric ovens available they would still make the baking process significantly more expensive because of the marked price difference between electricity and gas. And that’s with all 42T’s recommended energy savings and other operational cost reductions factored in.
Despite the initial cost implication findings, the study – funded through the Government’s Phase 1 Industrial Fuel Switching Competition – is continuing; in general terms it is designed to help accelerate the transition to cleaner fuels.
A full report detailing the results has just been published online by the Departments for Energy Security and Net Zero, and for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
The aim is to support other industries with oven-based operations needing to decarbonise, such as for curing and drying of ceramics, composites or papers.
Industrial baking in the UK relies on using natural gas-fired ovens to produce biscuits and other products with the flavour, texture and appearance that appeal to consumers.
The study had to consider both technical and commercial aspects of fuel switching to ensure product quality, costs and throughput could be maintained or improved.
42 Technology’s work included characterising the thermal and humidity profile of a current gas-fired industrial baking line; mapping the energy losses within the current process to identify potential savings; and investigating commercially-available electric ovens to replicate the existing baking process.
The team also developed a process to assess and reconfigure other production lines relying on electrical heating technologies.
The Food and Drink Federation has estimated that direct-fired ovens used within the UK’s food and drink sector contribute c700,000 tonnes of CO2e per year.
Electrification is seen as the best route to decarbonising the industrial baking process, given the UK’s commitment to zero-carbon electricity by 2035 and ongoing uncertainties over the availability and cost of green hydrogen. But maintaining product properties and costs are proving to be challenging. FBC UK estimates it could potentially reduce its annual greenhouse gas emissions by up to 17,000 tonnes CO2e by decarbonising its production lines.
Following on from the outputs of the feasibility study, the next step to realise that potential is a successful application to phase two of the Industrial Fuel Switching Competition to demonstrate the commercial viability of a high-efficiency electric oven on an industrial site by early 2025.