CSIRO is helping develop a new technology for the food industry - forward osmosis.
Concentrating liquids in the food industry
Many foods and beverages go through a concentration or evaporation step during processing to be able to last long enough to be shipped and stored or conveniently used as an ingredient in another product.
One industry that concentration is an important process for is the dairy industry. Milk is pumped through an evaporator to remove much of the water, then through a spray dryer to remove the rest of the water, which creates milk powder.
Evaporators use heat and vacuum to concentrate liquids, which can reduce the quality of some food and beverage products. They also use a lot of energy to operate and can foul, which can cause costly delays.
Other concentration technologies include membrane systems such as reverse osmosis, which also use pressure.
Our technology collaboration with Porifera
We have teamed up with US membrane technology specialist company, Porifera, to develop a relatively new technology that also concentrates food and beverage streams.
Forward osmosis uses membranes to concentrate liquids but it uses considerably less pressure than evaporation, therefore it uses less energy, there is significantly less fouling and cleaning is easier.
The process doesn't use heat, so proteins remain intact and components such as vitamins, flavours and aromas are retained, which means food products can have better quality attributes.
The first commercial unit for the Australian food industry is at CSIRO's food innovation centre in Werribee, Melbourne, and is available for the food and beverage industry.
Forward osmosis for the food industry – a bright future
Preliminary estimates show that the capital costs of forward osmosis can be less than 70 per cent and operating costs less than 60 per cent of those for evaporation, its main competitor technology. As a result, forward osmosis units can be installed on-farm such as dairy farms, not just in factories. This means less water is transported, thus also reducing transportation costs.
Forward osmosis has applications not only in dairy products but other foods and beverages such as fruit juices, proteins, water treatment and any application where water is removed.
Given the advantages in energy and transport efficiency, high quality concentrates and product functionality, amongst others, we believe there is a bright future for forward osmosis technology in the food industry.
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