Quick wins to reduce compressed air use

Explore some quick sustainability wins that can be easily implemented to help quickly reduce emissions and improve energy efficiency on a plant floor.

By Andy Macpherson June 8, 2023
Courtesy: CFE Media and Technology

Compressed air insights

  • Many companies want to improve energy efficiency and sustainability, but with compressed air, that is a complex process.
  • Energy monitoring and mapping to stagger the loading of its air and electric networks can help companies use recycled and recovered energy wherever possible while reducing peak loading.

Some electrical drive manufacturers advocate that the way to achieve CO2 reduction and hit sustainability goals is a simple matter of replacing pneumatics with electric drives, but this is an over-simplification of the reality facing machine builders and operators in the food sector.

A complex process

Achieving carbon neutrality is a complex process but investing time in the optimal selection and operation of pneumatic systems can deliver significant sustainability wins, reducing energy consumption, reducing waste, and driving down costs.

Working for Festo, a manufacturer with roots in pneumatics but today focusing more and more on electric drive technology, I can take a step back and take a balanced view of improving energy efficiency in food production machinery.

We share the responsibility to use energy efficiently. When compressing air, a substantial percentage of energy can be lost as heat. However, the latest heat recovery systems can recover up to 90% of that energy to offset other energy requirements. In the Festo Scharnhausen factory, this energy is used to heat offices and raise the temperature in anodiszng processes — the biggest single energy consumer in the plant. Waste heat from compressed air generation in food production can be similarly captured and used elsewhere.

At a plant level, Festo has also invested in energy monitoring and mapping to stagger the loading of its air and electric networks, using recycled and recovered energy wherever possible and reducing peak loading. It has optimized its compressed air installation network, reducing the standard ring main to provide 4 to 4.5 bar. It uses a far smaller higher-pressure network and local air intensifiers for outlying, older applications that still need higher pressures.

There are significant savings at a CAPEX plant level — paybacks are frequently within two to three years. However, the many marginal gains quickly add up at the individual machine and even actuator level. Often these don’t have to cost more, other than taking the time to break from the pattern of what has been done before.

– This originally appeared on Control Engineering Europe.

Author Bio: Andy Macpherson is industry manager for Food & Beverage at Festo.