Swiss multinational food giant Nestlé, called on natural refrigerant manufacturers to commercialize high-temperature hydrocarbon heat pumps that can generate steam at 200°C (392°F) so it can eliminate the fossil fuels needed for this process in its factories around the world.

The message was delivered by Vincent Grass, Nestlé’s Global Refrigeration Leader, Corporate Operations – Engineering Services, who presented the company’s decarbonization in an end user keynote address at last week’s ATMO Europe Summit in Brussels. The in-person event was organized by ATMOsphere, publisher of, on November 15–16.

Rethinking how energy is used

Nestlé owns more than 2,000 brands and is present in 186 countries in the world. It has committed to being net zero by 2050 and is currently focusing on actively reducing their carbon footprint. As such, they first measured their impact from farm to fork to understand their impact across the full value chain, explained Grass.

It found that the biggest environmental impact was at the agricultural end of the chain, with 65% of their carbon footprint coming from the ingredients used in their products. The next biggest impact was packaging at 11%. Only 7% of their carbon footprint is from its manufacturing side. However, Grass explained that this is an area where they have more control to transition to net zero faster.

To reduce the carbon footprint in its manufacturing facility, Nestlé is rethinking how energy is used. It wants to reconfigure the energy networks and reuse heat rather than dumping it into the atmosphere. That’s why it is combining heating and cooling through the installation of heat pumps. This allows the corporation to get rid of fossil fuels in certain processes and decarbonizing its heating. In some areas, it can now completely replace the boilers by combining the heating and cooling system.

For these heat pumps, it uses predominantly natural refrigerants where possible. “Why? Because they are in general more energy efficient,” Grass said. “They are also future-proof. That means the investment we make today – we don’t have to touch it again before it reaches the end of its asset life.”

Based on the temperatures required, Nestlé uses hydrocarbons, CO2 (R744), ammonia (NH3/R717), or a combination of these. To further reduce their emissions, Nestlé is trying to reduce the temperatures needed for processing so heat pumps can be used as far as possible. On the low-temperature side, it is also trying to increase temperatures to not overcool. Energy consumption is further reduced through redesigning the processes with integrated controls and digital solutions.

A call to action for heat pump manufacturers

The big challenge is the processes that require very high temperatures; temperatures higher than what a natural refrigerant heat pump can currently achieve. According to Grass, they are using heat pumps for up to 100–120°C (212–248°F), but, unfortunately, a large part of the processes that still must be heated with steam to achieve higher temperatures. Although they use biofuels in some regions, the steam is still generated largely by fossil fuels.

A slide from Grass’s presentation showing the gap where natural refrigerant steam-generating heat pumps are needed.

That is why Nestlé is looking at more efficient and sustainable way to deliver steam. “My ask to the room, in terms of what is missing, is to cover the gap we have – we need to de-steam our operations,” said Grass during his address at ATMO Europe. “We need heat pumps that can deliver higher temperatures. Steam generating heat pumps on the market today are mainly running on HFOs. There are not many natural solutions available in this market. Yes, some are working on it, and yes, it will certainly come. But it must come faster. We need it.”

Grass said that Nestlé would be keen to support industrialization or pilot projects that use hydrocarbons as refrigerant in heat pumps that generate high-temperature steam. “This will help us electrify steam in an efficient way – much more efficient than direct electricity,” he said. “We need that to transform our manufacturing landscape.”

During the Q&A session that followed Grass’s presentation, a representative of Japanese manufacturer Mayekawa confirmed that the company is working on a solution that can reach close to 200°C (392°F) but that it is still in the testing phase and not market-ready yet.

“We need heat pumps that can deliver higher temperatures. Steam-generating heat pumps on the market today are mainly running on HFOs. There are not many natural solutions available in this market. Yes, some are working on it, and yes, it will certainly come. But it must come faster. We need it.”

Vincent Grass, Nestlé

>>Read more stories from ATMO Europe Summit 2022

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