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Roasters look ahead to cleaner air.

Roasters look ahead to cleaner air

Castle Communications coffee roasting equipment has been elevated to a new level of importance in recent years. One of the reasons for this trend, and this should come as no surprise to those in the specialty coffee business, is the growing concern for quality, in all its possible manifestations. Here, that well-worn phrase refers to the heightened concern for the quality (or lack thereof) of the air we breathe at work and at home.

How exactly, does this pertain to the future of coffee roasting equipment? The issue is related in several important ways: it suggests an intensified scrutiny of coffee roasting operations and may present a real public relations challenge, it calls for higher emissions standards for these operations, and it will probably increase standard start-up costs because of the additional equipment required.

As the number of businesses involved in coffee roasting increases, and as they expand into populated areas previously unexposed to the pleasures of having their very own coffee roaster in the neighborhood, roasters can anticipate a few complaints. In speaking to roasters from Texas to Seattle, even for those who have been roasting for years at one location, we have learned that such responses from neighbors are indeed on the rise.

This presents a dilemma for coffee businesses, not only in terms of their roasting schedule, but also in terms of the actual equipment they may need to continue operating. Both manufacturers and roasters should be aware of these developments and the various ways in which they have been handled.

Since early in '89, roaster/retailers Bonnie and Jerry Itzig of La Creme Coffee & Tea in University Park, Texas have been confronted with complaints and legal action by a few of their neighbors over the aroma of roasting coffee beans. Based on their experiences with these residents, local government, and state and federal air quality officials, they advise anyone thinking about opening a roasting enterprise to be sure to find out exactly what commercial activities are proscribed by local zoning ordinances. Just as important, they say, is to find out which of these ordinances are actually enforced.

Bonnie Itzig reports that although they have finally decided to move their roasting equipment by expanding into a second location, they are not moving because of the battle over the smell of coffee roasting. They are adding a second location because they have now been cited for running a wholesale business in an area zoned for retail only, even though 40% of the other businesses in the same district can also be considered wholesale operations. Local officials are able to enforce these ordinances selectively - and they do, especially when neighbors file complaints.

Only about a mile away from their present store, the Itzigs plan to provide a coffeehouse establishment as well as roast coffee at their new location. They hope that the greater distance between their second facility and residences will prevent similar controversies from arising. But they are also taking additional precautions this time around by installing what are known as "scrubbers," which spray a fine mist on the exhaust generated by roasting. The water then condenses on the oils in the smoke, which creates a liquid residue. This system will cost the Itzigs between $1,000 and $2,000, much less expensive than the price of an afterburner for their 40 lb. roaster, estimated at about $15,000. Bonnie recalls that they were clearly discouraged by the price of an afterburner, which often costs as much (if not more) than the roasting equipment itself.

Caravali, on the other hand, has been roasting coffee for over two years in downtown Seattle, running the exhaust from the actual roasting as well as the cooling tray through a thermal natural gas afterburner. Tim McCormack of Caravali explains that they went to significant expense in order to minimize the effect on the surrounding community. "We knew from the outset that we would have to live in harmony with our neighbors, since we are located downtown." And even though he likes to point out jokingly that "as pollution goes, this is some of the best," he also says that he anticipated a period of adjustment in equipment settings and the overall roasting operation as part of the process of accommodating the local community. So in this sense, there hasn't been any real problem, just an expected time of experimentation, communication and accommodation.

But pollution concerns and controls are on the rise, McCormack acknowledges, and, in fact, he says he "wouldn't have it any other way." The trend is toward more control, and for better or worse, new precedents are being set, and emission requirements are becoming more stringent as agencies become more vigorous, the routing of cooling tray exhaust through the afterburner, for example, which Caravali presently does but which is far from standard coffee roasting operation. In this sense, then, McCormack concurs that, indeed, new and higher standards are being set, start-up costs are increasing as a result, and anyone looking to roast coffee will have to take these factors into account.

Steve Smith, master roaster for Starbucks, also based in Seattle with stores throughout the Pacific Northwest, Chicago, Minneapolis and Vancouver, says the company did receive a few complaints years ago, but has received none recently. But Starbucks has just completed the installation of a new, state-of-the-art computerized afterburner system with its own internal smoke emission standard of zero. Smith notes that they had originally looked into the possibility of a scrubber system rather than an afterburner, but decided this route was impractical due to the volume of coffee they roast, and because the scrubber system leaves one with fluid waste to dispose of rather than a gaseous waste.

Like McCormack at Caravali, Smith points out several important considerations: that most coffee roasters are located relatively close to metropolitan areas. In fact, most roasting operations need such larger population concentrations to support their businesses.

He also sees a concern for air quality as a fact of life in any metropolis. He also thinks of an exhaust filtering system as part of responsible business. "It is incumbent upon roasters, who more than likely must locate near densely populated areas, to do what is necessary. There's no point in adding to the concern about air quality."

How have manufacturers of roasting equipment and afterburners responded? John Newall of the Buffalo, New York-based Blaw-Knox Equipment Company foresees several developments in roasting equipment in the near future.

First of all, he has observed an increase in the number of requests for afterburners. He attributes the increase to the very same growing concern for air quality rather than to an increase in the number of roasting operations.

What are the future trends in afterburning equipment? "Well, we only see two viable options at this time: Thermal afterburners that reduce emissions through elevating the effluent to 1400 [degrees]F, or catalytic converters that still require effluent temperature elevation to 600 [degrees]F, however, then rely on a chemical reaction to complete reduction of hydrocarbons."

When asked about scrubbers, Newall contents that, "To date they have not yet proved effective for control of pollution from coffee roasters. Furthermore, they only transfer the pollution to a liquid state. Smaller roasters are looking for less expensive ways to deal with the problem, he continues, "and they will continue to experiment with a variety of options. But the larger commercial roasting operations have tried these options based on the projected attractiveness of the capital and operating expenses, and have found that the thermal afterburners or catalytic afterburners remain the only effective means of treating roaster effluent."

Steve Pardini of Coffee Service, a roasting equipment servicing company in San Francisco, confirms that manufacturers are not modifying roasting equipment in response to these concerns about air quality. Rather, he suggests the answer still lies in the purchase of an afterburner, which actually burns off 100 percent of the visible smoke from the coffee roasting process. He adds, however, that while 100 percent of the visible smoke is eliminated, some odor will persist, though not as intense.

Pardini finds that roasters typically will meet the legal air quality standards, but that does not necessarily stop a neighbor or another merchant from registering a complaint. "Even though you may be well within the law, the local community must be appeased, if for no other reason than the cost of a legal battle."

The bottom line for any company thinking about roasting, then, is one of financing. In gross terms, the cost of opening a coffee roasting business or a roaster/retailer shop may have just increased from the cost of a roaster to the cost of a roaster and an afterburning system of some sort. And while the price of an afterburner can start anywhere from about $7,000 to $15,000, most agree that simple systems for small roasters can usually be designed for considerably less. That assumes that the particular building structure is able to withstand the higher temperatures required for the operation of the afterburner.

It was suggested during these interviews that while most coffee roasters recognize the need for emissions controls, these standards may actually encourage shorter term benefits at the expense of longer term goals. Natural gas afterburners, for example, produce carbon dioxide as a byproduct, which may in the long run be more detrimental to the atmosphere than the exhaust it burns off.

Without minimizing the potential nuisance of the smell of roasting coffee, perhaps these standards must also be viewed in the context of long-term air quality in our cities. This may mean that, within reason, the emissions from roasting plants to not warrant serious attention until we come to terms with the worst offender of air quality, our own overdependence on the automobile in most American cities.

When I finally got in touch with Jay Endres at the Roastery Development Group in San Mateo, California, I learned that there may be a better solution, one that would satisfy local concerns about the smell of roasting coffee, as well as an interest in energy efficiency and cost effectiveness. Solve all of those problems, and you will revolutionize the coffee roasting emissions equipment industry.

Sure enough, Endres began the conversation by saying that afterburners were passe for the following reasons. Thermal afterburners use a lot of natural gas and produce carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide. Catalytic converter afterburners are more energy efficient, but they are also much more costly, and still produce carbon dioxide/monoxide.

The future of coffee roasting exhaust systems, claims Endres, will lead in two directions: it will see the incorporation of the afterburner into the roaster itself, rather than running two different heating systems, one to roast and one to burn the exhaust from the roasting process (there are actually several models currently available, but this technology is in its infancy); the second alternative, and the one he would most like to see, he calls the microbiotic scrubbing system.

The microbiotic technology is currently used to clean up oil spills and to eliminate odors from rendering plants. It involves a spray tower similar to the scrubbing system mentioned earlier by the Itzigs of La Creme Coffee & Tea. The smoke and odors from the roasting exhaust combine with the water and fall into containers filled with live microorganisms that digest the waste. The beauty of the system, again according to Endres, is that although installation costs are comparable to afterburning systems, maintenance costs are virtually zero. Endres expects the first such microbiotic system to be in place by the end of 1990.

We've seen that communities are certainly looking more closely at air quality in general, and this has meant that coffee roasters have been asked to take a closer look at their exhaust systems. As a result, standard operating costs are likely to go up because of the need for some additional equipment.

But roasters also point out that, at the very least, you must investigate fully before you begin - that includes finding out about the community in which you would like to locate, the local ordinances that may apply, and the limitations of the building itself. And if Jay Endres is correct, the future of coffee roasting may soon become more energy efficient, more cost effective, and perhaps even "livelier" than I would have thought possible.

Joan Hackeling, a writer for Castle Communications based in Los Angeles, is also editor of the Tea Quarterly.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
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Title Annotation:coffee roasting industry's air quality concerns
Author:Hackeling, Joan
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Mar 1, 1990
Words:2077
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