Energy Usage In Food Processing Plants

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There is a continuing concern about the energy demand by our food system. It is estimated that 17% of U.S. energy consumption is attributed to the food system (1). This figure includes energy used for production through processing, distribution, out-of-home preparation, and in-home preparation. The food industry requires energy for a variety of equipment such as gas fired ovens; dryers; steam boilers; electrical motors; refrigeration units; and heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems.

Natural gas is the predominant source of energy used by the U.S. food industry. In the last few decades about 50% of the gross energy used in food processing was from natural gas; 15%, from fuel oil, 13%, from electricity; and about 22%, from propane, butane, other petroleum products, coal, and some renewable energy sources (2). Within the food industry, the principal types of energy use include direct fuel use, steam, and electricity. Nearly 50% of energy use is in the form of direct fuel use. Almost 30% of energy is used to process steam and 10% to heat water. Almost 67% of electrical energy consumption is for generating mechanical power to operate conveyors, pumps, compressors, and other machinery. Refrigeration equipment consumes about 17% of electricity; lights consume about 10%; and heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning use approximately 4% of electricity.

Between 1973 and 1986, the cost of energy escalated dramatically. This trend promoted the installation of heat recovery equipment to conserve energy (3). It also focused the attention of scientists and engineers on the economic feasibility of alternative energy sources in various food-processing situations like cheese processing (4), food dehydration (5), and water heating (6). Energy consumption patterns of various food industries are briefly discussed.

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