The Kutter Cheese Co., pioneers in the commercial use of winter's cold to reduce refrigeration costs in warm weather, is now using bacteria to sharply increase the natural production of ice.
Oddly, the process uses the same naturally present bacteria, pseudomonas syringae, that Californio scientists have been working with to prevent the freezing of strawberry crops. The only difference, according to President John J. Gell of Snomax Technology, Inc. of Rochester, a Kodak subsidiary, is that in freeze prevention, the bacteria was genetically altered to remove the gene that promotes the freezing of water droplets.
The Snomax process in one respect is well tested.
"The operators of 200 ski areas in the United States, including all Western New York slopes, and 50 others in Europe, Japan and Australia use Snomax to increase their snow-making ability," Gell said.
Snomax, a pellet largely consisting of the cultured bacteria, accomplishes its mission by allowing water to freeze at higher than normal temperatures. Ice crystals readily form around part of the bacteria.
Contrary to popular belief, Gell says, water doesn't begin to freeze at 32 degrees, but rather at a super-cooled 16-20 degrees.
"Once the first ice crystal has been formed, energy is released, increasing the temperature up to 32 degrees where the freezing continues. By using Snomax, freezing can continue at 34 or 35 degrees once the process has started," Gell said.
In essence, that means that ice can be made naturally on warmer days than normally deemed possible.
Predicting another energy squeeze, Gell says industries that require refrigeration and are located in cold weather regions can reduce their energy costs by using Snomax. He estimates the cost of open-air freezing a ton of ice with Snomax at 35 to 40 cents a ton, against a $3 to $4 per ton cost through electric-powered refrigeration. He sees the process as gaining an energy edge for industries located in cold weather regions over sun belt competitors.
In addition to injecting its bacteria pellets into the water that will be frozen, Snomax will install a computer control system and varied shaped spray nozzles. The computer will determine when the temperature and humidity is right for ice-making and the type of spray nozzle best suited for the moment's conditions.
Kutter Cheese in 1982 began using winter cold to build a store of ice for warm weather refrigeration. After some refinements the process has proven to be a money saver for the Kutter plant. But few, if any, other industries picked up the idea. Gell is hoping that its Snomax addition will draw interest to operators of facilities that require cooling.
Kutter Cheese normally freezes 800 to 1,000 tons of ice per winter, according to Anthony Kutter, one of the two brothers who operate the cheese plant. The ice mound, sitting in a pool, cools water that as a refrigerant is circulated through the cheese plant's storage area.
Last year, Kutter's naturally winter-made ice, protected by a costly insulating blanket, lasted until August. Although Kutter says that the naturally made ice saves significant amounts of energy costs, he would recommend that new installations be geared to a shorter pre-summer period, November to May, to save the costs of insulating the winter ice.
The New York State Energy Research Development Authority, which helped finance the original Kutter winter ice installation, is paying for part of the Snomax demonstration at the cheese plant.