Trialling a novel process pipe heating system
About this project
Explore the people, research centres and partner organisations behind this project.
In collaboration with
Richard Harpum, Director, ZECK
“The opportunity to base ourselves in NCEFE’s open innovation space gave us an incredible opportunity beyond the academic assessment and testing. Showcasing our pilot equipment to a variety of stakeholders and regular conversations with other innovators has accelerated our development beyond anything we ever imagined.”
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Contact the NCEFE to discuss collaborations, facilities, funding and learning.
In the food and drink manufacturing industry food stuffs are required to be kept at elevated temperatures. This is to make sure that the products maintain the correct temperature or viscosity, allowing it to be pumped through a network of pipes to the next stage of manufacturing or packaging as the finished product.
Heat is used to maintain the viscosity of the product being pumped, facilitating the processing and safety of the product. Examples of such foods are chocolate, glucose syrups, oils, fats, soups and sauces.
The method used to heat these ingredients is a highly energy intensive process, which has not changed much in the last 100 years.
Currently, the pipes containing viscous fluids such as chocolate, are heated by housing the pipe containing the fluid within a large diameter pipe and pumping hot water in the void between, referred to as hot water jacketing. Whilst effective, it brings many challenges around food safety and energy consumption.
A key challenge is the water used to heat the pipes. Chemical inhibitors are added to this water to reduce corrosion and bacteria build up. However, inevitably, the water will eventually cause corrosion or become partially stagnant. This corrosion to the inner pipe allows water, which may be contaminated by bacteria such as salmonella, to enter the chocolate pipe.
Sustainability is another challenging factor as the hot water that melts the ingredients is generated by burning gas. This is a practice most manufacturers would like an alternative to as just 15m of jacketed pipe uses the same amount of energy in a year as the average 3-bedroom house.
To address this challenge, ZECK developed a digital solid-state electric heating system called ‘CATTS’. The 'Cascade and thermodynamic transportation system' uses a specialist energy control system to create a constant temperature profile along the entire length of the pipe.
To review the effectiveness of this equipment, ZECK partnered with experts at our National Centre for Excellence in Food Engineering (NCEFE).
What we did
A pilot plant was installed at NCEFE and Professor Martin Howarth led a full trial of the system.
CATTS is a dry system that eliminates all water-borne chemical and bacterial contamination risk as it does not require an outer jacket for the product pipe, meaning there can be no leakage. This in turn means the product pipe can be insulated.
We rigorously tested the heating system, including monitoring the accuracy of the heating profile. This was done by monitoring the temperature of the chocolate entering the pipe at key sections along the system and on leaving the system.
CATTS is a highly effective, bacteria-free, homogenous system that delivers a 90% reduction in energy compared to water-based systems. It is also zero-carbon ready and has an isothermal profile along the entire system, including +/-1 °C control accuracy along the entire pipe length, thus eliminating hot and cold spots.
This significant reduction in energy consumption also leads to a dramatic reduction in carbon emissions. It also has the potential for zero carbon emissions if a green renewable source of electricity is used.
In early 2022, Kinnerton chocolate company observed the prototype in action, leading to an internal audit of their existing equipment. A long-term analysis of their existing water contamination risk, downtime and energy consumption highlighted the triple-challenge their water-based system presented. The downtime results alone were enough for them to engage in an on-site pilot with a view to implement a company-wide rollout.
So impactful was this exploration that the company is in the process of installing some 3000 metres of CATTS pipework throughout their factory. By 2025, this innovative installation is predicted to reduce the factory’s total carbon emissions by 60%.