As current developments around technology integration look to reduce thermal drying loads in plant-based protein manufacturing, opportunities to consider alternate drying technologies, such as this Ring Drying system from Dedert Corp., may present new innovations that meet changing customer expectations.
Growing demand for alternative proteins has been driving the development of new technology solutions for large-scale manufacturing of food ingredients. Among the main market drivers is sustainability, a cornerstone in the shift to alternative proteins and plant-based ingredients, with an impact on the environmental footprint as well as the financial viability of a manufacturing plant, as Gregory See Hoye explains.
As new alternative and plant-based products are introduced to the market, innovations in process technologies based on R&D initiatives are critical to ensure that product integrity is maintained throughout scale-up and commercialisation. Dedert Corporation understands how sustainable design and process customisation are connected. With focused technical expertise in drying and evaporation, Dedert equally supports growing start-up companies and established market leaders with their goals for product development, process innovation and full-scale operation.
In the manufacture of plant-based protein isolates, spray drying is usually automatically acknowledged as the required technology, likely a carryover mindset from the traditional production of dairy proteins. Spray drying offers many advantages and is certainly required in these applications, but careful consideration of the product’s end use may reveal opportunities for alternative technologies or other integrated solutions.
From an energy perspective, thermal drying naturally carries an important cost related to fuel requirements or other heating sources due to the latent heat of vaporisation of water of about 970 BTU/lb (2256 kJ/kg). With a generally low solids content in protein feed streams, spray drying therefore consumes considerable energy compared to other technologies. The resulting production cost contributes to the product’s profitability with respect to the market price. Higher value applications like health products or nutraceuticals may be more forgiving to these costs, but products targeting feed or food applications may prompt a need for cost-saving solutions.
Process efficiency can be gained by shifting moisture reduction away from the thermal drying step. Current development around integration of mechanical dewatering, pre-concentration and reduced thermal drying processes are gaining attention. This arrangement, or a similar combination of related technologies, results in lower water evaporation requirements through thermal drying, and also opens the opportunity to consider alternate drying technologies such as ring drying. With these innovations, plant-based protein operations could potentially expect reductions in production costs, resulting in higher product profitability and easier access to market (especially for new products).
In addition to energy efficiency, water management is another area of sustainable design investigation. Many possible solutions can be considered, but the implementation of an evaporator on the wastewater stream provides a simple process to improve environmental impact. In many locations, municipalities have limitations on organic concentration in wastewater streams from manufacturing facilities. Evaporation can separate water from the solids, yielding a condensate stream that can be more readily discharged from the plant. Meanwhile, the concentrated product, or the solids fraction, becomes a nutrient-rich value-added product that can be used as a liquid fertiliser or blended with fibre for animal feed.
For additional benefit, the condensate stream from an evaporator can also be recovered as a heat source. Example applications include feed pre-heating for the evaporator itself, as well as ambient air heating and process air heating in other operational stages.
Through process equipment supplier partnerships, opportunities for process water recovery can also be realised. With further treatment and cleaning, the evaporator’s condensate stream can be a water source integrated into an upstream water-consuming process to reduce fresh water consumption.
Other potential areas of investigation include integration between dryers and evaporators (implemented in the form of waste-heat evaporators driven by dryer exhaust gases), as well as innovations using new technologies available to condense water vapour from various processes. Such process integrations between the upstream water users and downstream evaporation and drying technologies could result in water recovery for use as process water or other improved sustainability benefits.
The alternative protein market is evolving faster than expected. As a result, a focus on a key driver of the market shift, sustainability, needs to be considered early in the manufacturing process design to match the core consumer values. This sustainable design approach offers economic and operational benefits to the ingredients manufacturers by applying optimised technologies with better efficiency to reduce utilities consumption. Strategic partnerships between manufacturers, process providers and equipment suppliers are important to successfully implement a holistic approach to sustainable process design, requiring a like-minded collaboration to ensure a seamlessly integrated process solution.
This approach will open opportunities to lower the cost of operations and therefore provide easier access to market for new product innovations that meet changing customer expectations in a growing industry.
Dedert Corp. has partnered with the top ingredients manufacturers across many industries for over 50 years, witnessing first-hand how traditional process technologies can remain established while market demand evolves to new expectations. Our design innovations, ranging from falling-film evaporators to ring drying and multi-stage spray drying, are developed from R&D pilot plant testing and optimised for full-scale operation based on customised needs for our clients.
Gregory See Hoye is market manager at Dedert Corporation, a drying and evaporation technology solutions provider. His current role focuses on supporting developments in the manufacturing of plant-based food ingredients. Greg has 17 years’ experience in the food and agrifood sectors, with 12 years specialising in evaporation and drying solutions.
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2022
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