As known, a production activity can be optimized by taking as reference different parameters, such as production unit cost, annual revenues or profits, meaning that optimization should allow obtaining a given production with the greatest economic benefit. Optimizing a process, or a part thereof, though, has always been possible, concerning environment, for example by minimizing emissions of carbon dioxide, or water consumption or, more generally, resources. The two different approaches, if applied to the same task, determine different and even surprising results. A simple and immediate application is the comparison of two operations used for fruit juice concentration, for example. Industrially adoptable engineering solutions are those of multiple effect evaporation (usually triple effect) and thermal-compression. Technical and economic optimization involves the comparison of steam cost (thermal-produced) and thermoelectric kWh. The cheapest solution is determined by the amount of vapor (expressed in kg) compressed with the use of a kWh. If the amount is high, averaging more than 20 kg, thermal-compression is economically advantageous, otherwise it is not. Concerning environment, thermal-compression is favorable, compared to triple effect, when the kg of steam compressed with kWh are equal to or greater than 10. It is evident, therefore, that the solution to the problem of optimization is in choosing between economic or environmental. Similarly concerning environment, many other operations may be analyzed and optimized and this would lead to trend reversal of many productive choices: processes that are not cheap can be environmentally beneficial. Just think about freeze-drying, for example: what would be the savings in terms of carbon footprint considering that products thus obtained may not require pasteurization or sterilization. Nor they would require cold chain during domestic consumption. Lighter packaging and transportation would be favored for environment and resource consumption. Maybe it’s time to rethink the classical concepts of optimization, not only referred to the technical-economic field, and widen the horizon, considering lower ecological impact, not only in terms of reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases in general, but also lower consumption of resources, water and primarily soil. This is an unavoidable commitment that, especially we Europeans must take toward the planet and future generations: the second half of the last century was for Europe the period of post-war reconstruction, freedom and economic rebirth, achieved even at the expense of protection of resources. Therefore, this century will be the period of reconciliation with environment, in all its forms. Optimizing environment must be a pre-requisite of each process, both production and decision-making. The time of second thoughts is over and the economic crisis that continues dogging us is the most clear and concrete evidence.
by Dante Marco De Faveri