Dairy processor Burra Food has almost halved water use over the past three months.
Nick Adamson, General Manager Operations said: “There’s probably no factory that’s cut its water use by that percentage in that time.”
The factory at Korumburra in Gippsland, Victoria previously used 400,000 litres/day creating dairy ingredients for domestic and export clients.
Since December, water-saving measures have cut use to 250,000 litres/day.
Industry leaders have backed Nick’s claim. Neil van Buuren, Dairy Australia’s head of resource management and technology agreed that Burra’s three-month water-use curb was probably unmatched nationally.
Nick explained: “We’d already been doing a lot of waste water reduction; we had already cut water by 30% in the 18 months to last Spring.
“If the circumstances are right, we could potentially become water-neutral over the next year.”
The savings have mainly come from more efficient process washing and reusing the water evaporated out of the milk. The steam is condensed and the resulting pure water used in boilers and in cooling towers.
“The water comes out of the milk and the milk components stay in,” Nick explained. “You get very clean manufacturing grade water that we can hook up for reuse. We’re getting more out of the water we’re collecting, we’re increasing our reuse rate.
“We are also sending the excess to the local footy ground. We supported them in getting a community water grant to build the infrastructure and in March we sent them about 400,000 litres.”
Burra’s water savings are better-than-average in other ways, he added. The company creates high-end premium ingredients for food processors rather than bulk commodities such as milk powder. Burra’s diversity of products and the complexity of processing is more water-intensive, said Nick.
“We don’t have the economy of scale in our processing because we are niche-focussed. We produce a wider range of products, which means we’re swapping processes more often. That can be water-intensive.”
He continued: “The industry benchmark is a one-to-one ratio of the amount of water used compared to the amount of milk processed. However, that is measured on bulk commodity processing which we don’t do, so the fundamentals are against us.”
“But we’re managing waste water to achieve close to the benchmark despite all that.”
Using bore water was not a preferred option at present, Nick said. The water would need a lot of treatment to prevent damage to sensitive specialised equipment.
“We haven’t gone down that path because we’ve got other areas of efficiencies we can achieve more easily at this stage,” he said.
The water savings are part of a joint effort by Burra Food and the local water authority, South Gippsland Water. When 2006 Spring rains failed and reserves started to dwindle, the water authority met with the company to discuss the options.
South Gippsland Water Manager Operations Ravi Raveendran said: “Burra Food has been very co-operative in working with the water authority to set targets and really achieve a reduction in water use.”
Worst-case scenarios included having to truck in water should reserves drop to 15% - a costly proposition for the company, he said.
South Gippsland Water assisted by establishing an extra pipeline from Tarwin to serve the townships of Leongatha and Korumburra. An extra 3MG supply for the two towns came online in March.
The Burra Food factory, which employs between 50 and 70 people and handles the equivalent of more than 100million litres of milk a year, has also established a water-saving committee.
“They’re looking at using dry cleaning methods instead of wash down, we’re reviewing the way of cleaning things,” said Nick. “It can be as basic as shovel it up and put it in a bucket rather than hosing it down. Or it can be more sophisticated.”
“We will be investigating the use of industrial vacuum cleaners and we’re also studying the use of air-pressured and vacuum-driver ways to clean the processing lines.”
“One of the things we’re looking at is to purge the lines using a mechanical ‘pig’, a little slug that goes though the lines, either mechanically driven or air-driven.
“We are also looking at timing the wash-downs to optimise water use.” He explained that the water-saving committee has a broader vision, too.
“We’re aiming to make water saving a part of our life beyond the factory. The committee will look at circulating water-saving hints for domestic use, making it a cultural thing rather than just a factory thing. We expect this to be an ongoing initiative of the factory,” he said.
Burra Food Chief Executive Grant Crothers said: “This initiative is more than just a commercial priority; Burra Food is a thoughtful community member and we recognise our responsibilities. Good stewardship of water and other natural resources is part of our company’s bottom line.”