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A taste sensation thanks to natural gas Naturin produces collagen casings for the food industry.

What do natural gas and food products have in common? At first glance, nothing. And yet the energy source plays an enormously important role in the foodstuff and meat processing industry. For instance, Naturin Viscofan GmbH produces collagen casings for sausages of all types - and natural gas provides the fuel for the production facilities.

Naturin uses natural gas to operate one of the most modern collagen casing production lines in the world. A new gas pipeline was laid at the factory premises in Weinheim in Baden-Württemberg for just this purpose. The precious energy source has been fed in at a pressure of 30 bar since October 2013. At the plant's own gas transfer station, the pressure is reduced to 2.5 or 24 bar for use in the new high-efficiency gas turbine - a modern system that simultaneously saves energy.

The Naturin company was founded in 1933

Approximately 500 employees work on production in Weinheim

Thanks to natural gas, the production runs around the clock, 365 days a year

Thick, wrapped pipes wind through the large halls, and ceiling lights with LED technology provide optimal lighting for every corner. "We have succeeded in building the most efficient supply system for our company", explains Rainer Stöhr, head of the energy division at Naturin. For Naturin, founded in 1933, efficiency means: a gas turbine that produces steam, which is then channeled to the production facility through a sophisticated distribution system. In addition, the system uses a large cooling and heat pump unit.

 "We have cooperated with the industry in the direct vicinity for many years and it gave us our supply of steam," continues Stöhr. The new concept therefore had to be a fit with the existing pipe infrastructure and produce steam. Ultimately, the company opted for a gas turbine, which produces both steam and power. The main advantage for the business: The ratio of heat to electricity is 1.6:1. "That covers exactly what the plant requires", say Stöhr, as he glances at a monitor to check the turbine's current operating level.

The system's efficiency is reflected in the multiple steps of the collagen production. While some 500 workers are employed in Weinheim for the production of this structural protein, they rarely need to manually intervene in the process.

"It is a fully automated process that only runs in one direction", explains production manager Dr. Eberhard Grimm. Manual operations by employees are only necessary in certain cases and during regular quality control checks.

Driven by the power produced by the gas turbine, the production line moves the cleaned and disinfected casings to the next hall. Next, the raw materials are poured into a giant hopper. There the natural product is chopped and blended into a mixture. "The result is a flowable paste", explains Grimm. The functionality of the several kilometer long cooling system must be 100% reliable. That's because the first step involving the chopping is particularly sensitive. The process creates a significant amount of heat that must be quickly cooled. "If it stays too warm, the paste will turn to gelatin and we won't be able to process it", explains the production manager.

The shaping is the final step for the collagen casings. A nozzle blows out the liquid mixture like a huge soap bubble. "Depending on the customer's need, we can vary the diameter and thickness of the casing", explains Grimm. Wiener sausages, cooking sausages, Nürnberger sausages - they each receive their own, edible casing. They are then taken on a long conveyor belt from the production to the drying line.

While Grimm walks through the narrow passages between the moving casings, keeping a constant eye on the conveyor belts, the high temperature is now noticeable even through the protective apron.

"This is where we can make the best possible use of the heat generated by the natural gas", reports the production manager.

The raw casings are dried in various stages at up to 100 degrees before machines wrap the dried casings on cardboard rolls. The rolls are then sent by Naturin, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Spanish company Viscofan - to their customers in over 160 countries worldwide.

Every conduit, every pipe and every container is constantly monitored. Thanks to natural gas, the production runs around the clock, 365 days a year.