Intelligent food processing systems

Part of Today in the Lab – Tomorrow in Energy?

Today in the Lab – Tomorrow in Energy? shines a spotlight on research projects under development in the Technology Collaboration Programmes (TCPs). Learn more about the initiative, read the launch commentary, or explore the TCPs.

A cost-effective, emission-free system for drying food and biomass

What is the aim of this project?

SusOrgPlus (EU) and HighEFFLab (Norway) are working to develop and demonstrate a cost-effective, emission-free system for drying food and biomass that uses heat pumps to recover waste heat in a 30 kW industrial dryer. The aim is to use the waste heat of the drying system and upgrade it to usable process heat for the same drying system.

How could this technology be explained to a high school student?

The heat pump system recovers waste heat from the drying chamber by removing moisture from the air. This is done by the evaporator of the heat pump. The heat recovered is then upgraded to a significantly higher temperature so it can be reused in the condenser to heat the drying air.  The same principle can be observed in a household refrigerator: while the inside of the refrigerator is cold, the back of the refrigerator creates heat that could be used. 

What is the value of this project for society?

  • reduces primary energy consumption by up to 75%
  • reduces carbon emissions of the drying process to almost zero
  • provides proof of concept and blueprint for industrial roll-out
  • supports the development of a code of practice for food processing 

At what stage of development is this project?

The project began as a concept study in 2015. The maturity of the technology was high, but industry had not taken up the concept because it was considered unproven. The aim of the SusOrgPlus project was therefore to demonstrate and investigate the feasibility for a small industrial system. The heat pump and drying system were supplied by different vendors and integrated by HighEFFLab into an operational system in 2019. Control strategies were investigated during 2020 in order to find a techno-economic balance between product quality, processing time and energy reduction. Further investigations will focus on digitalising and optimising the operation using Internet of Things technology. 

What government policies could bring this from the lab to the market?

  • pricing renewable energy sources competitively and fairly
  • implementing strict regulations promoting low-emissions industrial production as well as energy efficiency requirements for industry

The principle of heat pump-assisted drying. Source: SINTEF

Partners and funders


  • SINTEF Energy Research, Norway.


  • The Research Council of Norway (through ERA-NET co-operation), grant 286127 and grant 270064.

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About the Technology Collaboration Programme on Industrial Energy-Related Technologies and Systems (IETS TCP)

Established in 2005, the IETS TCP focuses on energy use in a broad range of industry sectors with significant potential for reducing emissions and costs. The IETS TCP work programme ranges from aspects relating to development of processes and energy technologies, to overall system analysis and energy efficiency in industry sectors.