Revolutionize the Food & Beverage world by replacing the current processes of pasteurization and homogenization of food fluids with one based on controlled cavitation. This is the goal of the project FCHR to increase the efficiency and sustainability of many industrial processes by raising energy efficiency and safety standards and increasing the nutritional characteristics of products.
Co-financed by the European Union and coordinated by Wixta Industries, the project started with milk and apple juice, he says Maura Bernardini, one of the project managers who is dealing with it, but will soon expand to nectars, purees, and baby food, always aiming for energy savings of 15%, just to start.
1) What does your project consist of? What is it for? Who is involved?
FCHR is a research project presented in the context of the Seventh Framework Program of the EC, and responding to the 'Research for SMEs' call. The project obtained the requested funding and officially started on 1 September 2012.
The goal is to create an innovative process that integrates pasteurization and homogenization of fluid foods (milk, fruit juices, etc.) using an alternative approach to the thermal one currently in use, and exploiting the mechanical effect of controlled hydrodynamic cavitation. Doing more sustainable and more energy efficient innovation, but keeping the quality of the treated products unchanged, we want to improve the competitiveness of Food & Beverage companies.
Research centers have been involved in the project that will build the system FCHR (Univ. Di Roma Tor Vergata, University College Cork, and Labor Srl), and of the European SMEs who will validate and exploit this technology to their advantage, once the project is completed (Wixta Industries - Italy, Fenco Spa - Italy, Electricars Ltd - Malta, Epleblomsten AS - Norway, Glenilen Farm Ltd - Ireland).
2) What are the other technologies generally used so far? Why is your project innovative?
Currently the most used treatment for milk treatment is the thermal one, which consists in bringing the liquid to a high temperature (72 ° C for pasteurization) and keeping it in this condition for a fixed time (HTST technique). Some alternative techniques have been tested to reach lower temperatures, which can affect the quality of the product: in particular, ultrasonic treatments, with pulsed electric fields, at high pressure or with UV radiation have been the subject of research, but are still poorly efficient in energy terms.
The innovation of FCHR mainly consists in the possibility, through mechanical treatment, to obtain the same degree of pasteurization and homogenization of the processed foods, at reduced temperatures. Obvious advantages will be the reduced cost and energy savings, the efficiency of the process and the guarantee of a quality final product, which keeps the nutritional properties of milk and juices intact.
3) Cavitation: what is it? How did you get the idea?
Cavitation treatment consists in the generation of large amounts of energy in the form of shock waves, due to the turbulence produced in the fluid by pressure variations. This turbulence creates local pressure drops in the fluid that create micro bubbles, ranging in size from hundreds of nanometers to millimeter. These micro bubbles, imploding, release large amounts of energy in the form of shock waves, which constitute the cavitation effect.
Cavitation is generally a destructive phenomenon, and is usually avoided in motors to avoid damage, but in reactors like FCHR it can be controlled and lead to amazing results.
The coordinating company of the project, Wixta Industries, has already experienced the effect of this system in other fields than food. In particular, the technology has been applied to the treatment of organic waste in waste water and to the emulsion of diesel / biodiesel with water to obtain a stable product. On the basis of the promising tests in these fields, the challenge of applying to food was then considered.
4) What kind of fluid can it be used with? In what contexts? Do you carry out tests on the food products used?
The main objective of the project is to recreate the optimal conditions to achieve a degree of pasteurization and homogenization equal to that currently achieved with traditional techniques. The fluid to which we will devote more attention in the test phase with the new technology FCHR it will be the milk, for the moment, and the Apple juice, of particular interest to the members of our Consortium.
To do this, our partner 'University College of Cork' in Ireland will use the help of the two end users of the technology to have milk and raw juices on which to carry out an intensive test session, from a microbiological point of view - to evaluate the reduction of the bacterial load - and from the nutritional point of view and the chemical / physical qualities of pasteurized and homogenized foods.
This test phase will last approximately 6 months and then move on to economic and commercial evaluations related to the behavior of the system and the possibility of creating a fluid food treatment plant of about 9000 l / hour.
5) What advantages does your method provide from an energy point of view?
Quantitative targets for the reactor FCHR are a production capacity of 2,000 / 3,000 liters per hour with a reactor, an outlet fluid temperature lower than 60 ° C, a microbial inactivation equivalent to that of traditional techniques, a heating efficiency greater than 90% and savings energy for the integrated pasteurization and homogenization process of about 15%.
The heat treatment currently used represents in itself a large part of the energy consumption in a plant: the reduction of the temperature through the use of cavitation will result in considerable energy savings, estimated at around 15%, to which must be added the savings that derive from 'having unified the two processes of pasteurization and homogenization, which are usually carried out independently.
6) What advantages does your method provide from the nutritional and health point of view of the processed food product?
The reduction of thermal shock on food also reduces the degradation effect of nutrients, keeping the flavor and quality of the food intact; in particular for milk we expect an exalted white color, a minimization of the "sweet curdling" effect due to the release of enzymes and oxidation, which make the taste of milk sweet, a longer shelf-life long under normal refrigeration conditions.
The technology will also be tested on other products such as nectar, purees, infant formulas, etc. From the hygienic-sanitary point of view, the system will take as reference the Machinery Regulations for food-grade plants, and will be made entirely of AISI 316 stainless steel. The objective of the microbiological and chemical-physical tests on the treated products is to verify the quality of the latter, before being able to market the final plant and put it on the market.
7) Are there any economic advantages?
The competitive advantage it's surely also economical. We have estimated that the investment costs for a plant of about 9,000 liters / hour for the treatment of milk or juices will be reduced by about 50% compared to the current costs incurred for a traditional plant, precisely because FCHR will carry out homogenization and pasteurization together.
A fundamental phase of the project will be dedicated to food tests and specific activities are planned to quantitatively characterize the system and compare the technology with those currently in use from the point of view of energy, economics and the final quality of the food processed.
The first beneficiaries of the project will be the companies of the Consortium, but we are sure that the placing on the market of FCHR It will bring an enormous economic advantage for Food & Beverage companies, which is reflected in the reduced investment cost for a plant capable of combining two processes, and in the possibility of reducing energy consumption during the process itself.