Probat unveils its first hydrogen-powered shop roaster


Probat Chief Technology Officer Thomas Koziorowski discusses the company’s first hydrogen-powered shop roaster for smart and sustainable process optimisation.

When coffee processing technology giant Probat held its Connecting Markets symposium at its headquarters in Emmerich, Germany on 21 and 22 September 2022, invited guests received the first look at its inaugural hydrogen-powered shop roaster, the P05.

Probat Chief Technology Officer Thomas Koziorowski says the hydrogen roaster attracted the greatest attention and triggered enthusiastic reactions from spectators.

“Visitors were able to see for themselves that coffee roasted with hydrogen – which was served throughout the whole event – tastes just like coffee traditionally roasted with gas or electricity,” Koziorowski tells Global Coffee Report.

The outer appearance of the roaster is the same as a gas or electrical roaster. Where the shop roaster differs, Koziorowski says, is inside the machine.

“Looking internally, you can see that the burner is different and therefore requires another heating furnace. The gas route of hydrogen also differs from that of natural gas because the valves and materials used must be approved for hydrogen,” he says.

The P05 shop roaster will be ready for quotation and delivery from January 2023.

“The software was specially designed, as hydrogen is mixed with air. Therefore, the burner has to be controlled differently. For the customer, however, all this is irrelevant because the roaster’s mode of operation is the same, as is the required heating capacity. You get a complete solution from us,” Koziorowski says.

Koziorowski says the installation of the hydrogen roaster is quite easy for customers to implement into existing infrastructure.

“For shop roasters, it is relatively simple because you can work with bottled hydrogen or with a tank that is filled by a hydrogen provider at regular intervals. In both cases, a separate pipeline network must be installed within the roastery, including monitoring sensors to identify any leaks straight away,” he says.

He adds that Probat is also in the process of transferring to a hydrogen-powered industrial roasting infrastructure at its own roasting site. However, completely different requirements must be met to operate a roasting machine permanently and reliably with hydrogen.

“A tank or pipeline system and a corresponding supply network is needed. This is not a problem where a hydrogen network already exists, such as in regions with chemical industrial plants, or areas where hydrogen is expendable and has already been used for decades. Everywhere else, a corresponding infrastructure must first be built,” Koziorowski says.

“In areas with plenty of wind energy, such as coast lines, there are currently approaches to setting up hydrogen networks to produce green hydrogen for local use. In individual cases, it may also make economic sense to build an electrolyser (a system that uses electricity to break water into hydrogen and oxygen) for your own use.”

Adaptations of the burner technology in the P05 for use in industrial roasters is underway.

“We are currently in the test phase of retrofitting burners, as we have already received many retrofit inquiries from customers with shop roasters in the P series. We will provide them with an adequate retrofit package in the near future, very likely in the first quarter of 2023,” says Koziorowski.

According to Koziorowski, the development of hydrogen-compatible roasters is a paramount step in the long overdue transition to green energy and the decarbonisation of the coffee industry.

“Green hydrogen remains far off from being a significant contributor to global energy supply. The hydrogen available today is mainly produced from fossil fuels with carbon dioxide release, merely shifting the emissions. Direct electrification would still be the best solution as everything else includes an intermediate step where energy is lost,” he says.

“Therefore, electricity is always the best option for the smaller roasters of the P series, as the efficiency of useful energy is much higher. For industrial roasting processes, grid stability poses a problem, so here, we concentrate on green hydrogen as it does not emit polluting gases.”

Koziorowski says the issue of an alternative energy supply remains prevalent in the production industry worldwide.

“Indeed, the supply of renewable energy in sufficient quantity is the true challenge. The amount of green hydrogen needed to power large roasting plants is huge as opposed to shop roasters,” he says.

“The more hydrogen you need, the more renewable energy must be obtainable for producing the green variant. And beyond that, there are only three or four companies in the world capable of building huge large-scale electrolysis plants.”

What’s more, Koziorowski says new regulations and growing consumer pressure for more sustainable practices has caused a sharp rise in the demand for alternatively- powered roasters in recent years. This demand contributes to Probat’s ongoing thoughts on new environmentally friendly technologies.

“The availability and current price development for natural gas has now led to a strong request for temporary answers on the way to carbon-neutralise roasting processes,” Koziorowski says. As such, Probat has looked into adequate alternatives and now offers its customers Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG)-compatible adaptations of burner technology.

“LPG is produced during oil refining or is extracted during the natural gas production process. With higher availability on the markets, LPG has much potential as an alternative to natural gas. Also, with manageable effort, roasting machines previously operated with natural gas can also be converted to LPG operation,” says Koziorowski.

“The Probat experts derive the actual technical steps required, such as LPG-compatible adaptations of installed burner equipment, on a case-by-case basis.”

Koziorowski says this is an interim solution to help customers overcome the natural gas shortage.

“That is why we are now offering retrofits to make burners LPG-compatible. However, the carbon-intensive nature of traditional roasting is hampering the coffee industry’s ability to reduce its environmental impact. Therefore, we’ve been looking into the issue of fossil fuel replacement for years now,” he says.

“We’ve tested nearly all viable alternatives, such as biogas, electricity, and green hydrogen, which we consider the future of coffee roasting. Our whole engineering team made a concerted effort to develop roasting technology that can be operated with this highly combustible gas.”

Koziorowski says customers are welcome to test hydrogen roasting on the P05 at its research and development centre.

“Together we must find workable solutions to innovate ourselves out of this fast-approaching climate disaster. Driving down the costs of electrolysers and developing significantly greater renewable generation capacity is the solution,” he says.

Koziorowski says the company will continue to promote the scalability of green hydrogen as an energy carrier while the international coffee industry eagerly awaits the P05 market launch and adaptations for industrial roasters.

“We will also be launching a hydrogen-powered P12 shop roaster in the foreseeable future, very likely within the course of this year, and our customers can look forward to the first hydrogen- powered Px 120 drum roaster, which we will present at [processing and packaging trade show] Interpack this year,” Koziorowski says. GCR

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This article was first published in the January/February 2023 edition of Global Coffee Report. To read the research paper, click HERE.

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