Membrance Procesess

The food industry is more aware of product quality and safety as well as reducing energy consumption of processing. European Commission (EC) sets a target to improve the energy efficiency to at least 32.5% in 2030. Optimization of conventional food production chain (raw materials to products and waste streams) has been executed for many years and has reached its limit. Consequently, several food processes require a lot of energy input but end up with low-cost products (e.g., animal feed, fertilizer) and waste streams. Therefore, another processing approach implies a different use of raw materials by avoiding waste and side streams. In addition, all batch processes should be avoided and turned into continuous processing to achieve low energy process routes.

The food industry has been focusing on the straight-forward processing of products and ingredients. Conventional technology development also resulted in more effective and optimized technologies for making those ingredients with often high purity and general applicability. However, the production of pure ingredients is associated with material losses (higher purities  result in lower yields). This leads to another concept to develop efficient food processing. The starting point of this development was the fact that milk contains more than one (chemically pure) ingredient, implying that complete fractionation of milk is not necessary. Micronutrients, often removed in current fractionation processes, can even provide additional health benefits.

On the other hand, separation and purification to obtain a pure component are also important for highly valuable components in the forms of pharmaceuticals/nutraceuticals. For example, fish hydrolysates have shown notable functional properties (foaming, emulsifying) and bioactivities (antioxidant, angiotensin-I-Converting Enzyme (ACE) inhibition, and immunomodulation). However, the functional/bioactive peptides should be separated or fractionated from the hydrolysates mixture to utilize those peptides effectively. In addition, the valorization of waste products such as fish hydrolysates can also reduce the waste streams and improve material utilization.

Membrane processes are regarded as one of the most sustainable separation technologies in the food, pharmaceutical, and chemical industries. Because membrane separation often does not involve thermal processes. The separation is operated in a mild operation with low temperature and without additional chemicals. This operation expends less energy and causes a few modifications or damage to valuable products such as proteins or hydrolysates. In addition, the application of membrane for separation allows a continuous operation and is easy to scale up. These advantages make membrane technologies attractive for solute concentration or fractionation purposes.

In the dairy industry, use of membrane processes for the fractionation of dairy proteins has been in existence for over five decades. Cold fractionation that allows the production of streams rich in certain dairy protein fractions with a mild condition, are yet to be fully explored. Moreover, use of hollow fiber microfiltration membranes in the aforementioned application is an avenue that could potentially revolutionize the dairy industry. This forms a niche for one of the research parts to further explore novel processing routes for dairy materials.

In addition, transport of solute with a multicomponent mixture has not been described well quantitatively due to its complexity, which is attributed to multiple forces and components in the system. Quantification of solutes transport in a complex system can be potentially done within Maxwell-Stefan (MS) framework. However, no research has been done on evaluating protein transport through UF within the MS framework, which is essential to design a fractionation process.

In this project we aim for:

·       Developing and demonstrating novel processing routes for dairy materials with a 50% reduction of carbon/energy footprint (Hilda)

·       Investigating the mechanism of solute transport of hydrolysates with tight ultrafiltration (Nattawan)

·       Evaluating the mechanism of solute transport in a multicomponent system with ultrafiltration for protein fractionation (Eric)

The projects on modelling protein transport and designing milk fractionation of dairy material projects are financially supported by Institute for Sustainable Process Technology (ISPT).

The project on separation and purification of fish hydrolysates is financially supported by the Royal Thai Government, Thailand.