According to ISTAT data, in Italy the food industry is preceded, by number of enterprises, just by the sector of metal product manufacturing. Moreover, it constitutes the first manufacturing industry in the Country by global turnover, which in 2017 reached over 137 billions in € and achieved 140 billions in € for 2018 (processing by Ufficio Studi Federalimentare).
In a context of such scope, innovation is fundamental to maintain a leadership on a world scale. Therefore, it must concern not only products, business models and manufacturing processes but also all those elements that improve companies’ environmental and economic sustainability, their efficiency and, consequently, their competitiveness on the global market, permitting to produce with lower consumption of energy and raw materials.
Innovating means (also) adapting
Innovating means not only creating something new but also observing standard processes from a new point of view, from a not conventional perspective to modify them according to new available technologies, new expertise and new trends. This was precisely the task accomplished by NeoruraleHub, an Italian reality that enjoys over twenty-year experience in the field of natural resource saving for business and environment. In the specific case, NeoruraleHub has reviewed two technologies in the agribusiness refrigeration sector, modifying them in the light of new trends and new technologies to allow more efficiency. The two technologies concern the production of chill water for the food or pharmaceutical industry and the use of cooling towers.
iChiller: production of live chill water
In food and pharmaceutical companies, they use chill water for the refrigeration of products and processes. They preferably use pure water, without the addition of glycol, due to product safety reasons. The demanded temperature is generally around 0.5 -1°C, then slightly above the water solidification point. «In most companies, plants implemented in the Eighties are still running» explains Mr Matteo Bonifichi, engineer and technical director of NeoruraleHub. «In such plants, chill water is typically produced in big tanks where a refrigerating circuit, generally based on ammonia, cools water and determines the formation of ice blocks. The slow ice melting then allows maintaining the temperature in water tanks precisely around 0.5-1°C. From here, water is then conveyed to the productive circuit». He further adds: «It is a system devised when in Italy, with the electricity price that changed depending on time bands, it was much cheaper at night, hence the refrigeration plant was operated precisely in night hours. The formed ice acted as a cold reserve, cooling the process water all day long and so permitting the plant remained switched off when electricity was more expensive». Today, a system of this kind, in the light of the deep changes occurred in the electric sector, is completely anachronistic and scarcely interesting because the price difference between daily and night hours has decreased and, in some case, zeroed. «Such plants require ammonia is brought to much lower temperatures than those actually needed. Moreover, the ice formation around heat exchangers in tanks makes thermal exchanges very inefficient. To the extent that seasonal efficiencies measured in these systems are often inferior to 3».
The new iChiller technology – exclusive of NeoruraleHub and marketed with “Meno Energia” brand – replaces the traditional system and is based on the direct production of cold water without using tanks for ice and, especially, it avails itself of Adam&Eva (ADAM: ADaptive Auto Monitoring; EVA: Energy Value Analysis), it too a proprietary system that revolutionizes the concepts of electric energy monitoring and management and is based on machine learning and event prediction logics.
Adam&Eva system is self-adaptive and constantly monitors both the refrigeration group and the chill water demand by the utility. According to the information surveyed and processed, Adam&Eva automatically suits the behaviour of the chiller to produce water, maximising efficiency and assuring there is no ice production. «These are the real novelties of our system: direct production and accurate control» Bonifichi states.
What about the chiller used to manufacture the iChiller by NeoruraleHub? The base chiller that makes up the solution called iChiller is the best chilling machine the market provides, in terms of both quality and energy efficiency, and it operates with R134a gas with enlarged evaporators that optimize the thermal exchange. «However, we are considering of using in the future coolants with minor GWP and at lower costs than R134a». Certainly, an important evolution, given the prices reached by 134a and the commitment to researching more and more sustainable solutions. Meanwhile, the plants with iChiller, controlled by Adam&Eva, reach yearly ESEER values around 6 and allow an energy saving up to 50% compared to standard systems.
Adam&EVA – always in pair
How does Adam&Eva proprietary advanced control system work? It consists of two functions that work in pair and it is applicable to any activity, process and plant of which it is possible to collect data to be reprocessed.
EVA module collects consumption data and the process magnitudes from the field and, through a cloud platform, it makes them available for customers in real time, to control moment by moment the energy flux, through diagrams and tables, too.
Information are then transmitted to Adam module that processes the data received from Eva and communicates the necessary adjustments to maximise efficiencies and to decrease consumptions. Unlike conventional systems, the intervention occurs according to self-adaptive intelligence principles. Therefore, Adam&Eva system allows monitoring the plant in real time, estimating its trend in future periods and keeping under control the values of the variables deemed relevant, to have a constantly performing plant. Furthermore, through the analysis of historical data, it permits to foresee eventual failures, then shifting to a predictive maintenance logic that not only aims at avoiding the same breakdowns occur but also at optimizing the management of maintenance interventions to reduce their costs: intervening according to precise indications and punctual analyses, either at determinate expiries or at the corrective one, when failures take place. The analysis of historical data, combined with proprietary algorithms by NeoruraleHub, allows also highlighting inefficiencies that, opportunely corrected, can lead to further savings.
iTOWER: smart management of cooling towers
According to some sources, cooling towers are the most reliable, consolidated and efficient heat dissipation systems currently at disposal. The principle they exploit is the natural one of evaporative cooling that has been applied in industry for decades now. Evaporation is the natural process that uses sensitive and latent heat as dissipation instrument of the thermal load. State-of-the-art cooling towers actually feature electrical consumptions that are even ten-time lower than other heat dissipation systems, besides, they stand out for low noise and reduced water consumptions. Nevertheless, the electrical and water consumptions of these plants are very often disadvantaged by the inexperience of operators that manage them, as they fix set-point temperatures that do not consider dynamically the changeable environmental conditions in which the tower operates, so resulting inefficient. The outcome? «Excessive electric and water consumptions, without reaching the desired temperatures» explains Fabrizio Pravettoni, sales manager of Meno Energia brand. «This deters many customers from such technology and such machines that are instead very convenient and efficient in fulfilling their task, if correctly used». What does treating them rightly mean? «In this case as well, the logic proposed by NeoruraleHub is based on the constant control of temperatures that determine the efficiency of a tower: coolant temperature, the evaporation one and the outer temperature». The control of these parameters cannot be performed manually: we need in fact a sophisticated control system, able to collect data at regular intervals. In this situation, too, NeoruraleHub proposes Adam&Eva control software: «Adam&Eva can survey and enormous quantity of machine parameters and use the best conditions at any time, constantly adapting set-points to real conditions». A further efficiency level is achieved by completing the tower with a chiller for the most critical phases. This enables a lower water consumption in the cooling tower. In fact: «When towers are at stake, not only the energy consumption must be kept under control, but also the one of water, more and more precious resource. In the installations carried out presently, for instance, in towers of about 870kW maximum 70% water savings have been scored; in plants equipped with 500kW chiller, savings of around 40,000€ have been reached just in the evaporative tower».
NeoruraleHub: many competences in a single Innovation Center in the outskirts of Milan
Based on Giulio Natta’s legacy and on decades of research and development, NeoruraleHub is a reality established by the engineer Piero Manzoni that addresses the whole agribusiness chain as supplier of innovative technologies for the saving of natural resources.
It develops new solutions to let agriculture represent a resource for the struggle against climatic changes, to make the food industry become more competitive through the reduction of its consumptions, food distribution be sustainable and high-quality and organic wastes be used again to feed the soil, in a real circular economy.
Therefore, NeoruraleHub encompasses different activities, all headquartered at the Innovation Center Giulio Natta at Giussago, few kilometres from Milan, where it operates in the agribusiness chain by developing innovative solutions for sustainability, also boosting, collaborating and facilitating the open innovation of other players, both companies, start-ups and research centres.
The Italian district of sustainable innovation for the agribusiness sector and the circular economy was so born. Further information: https://www.neoruralehub.com