Emerging technologies & Process intensification
Food is vital and the processing of food has been essential since the beginning of humankind as known today. In the last 50 years, revolutionary developments have been taking place in the food processing industry and new technologies are emerging continuously towards safer food, with better taste and with an each time more relevant nutritional content. In the same way, new challenges emerge in the sector coming from a growing global population and its highly diverse demands. The security of the food supply is fundamental and one of the main treats to this supply lies on the dependency on non-renewable energy sources that additionally contribute to an acceleration of the climate change on which the base of food lies. In this project, a collection of emerging technologies is presented with a potentially large range of application in the food processing industry. Non thermal emergent technologies (high pressure processing, ultrasound, etc.) are found with a low level of intervention on food and with a broad range of application enabling great potential towards minimal processing of food using less energy and potentially diversifying the energy sources. All the emergent technologies found have an edge on conventional technologies that may enable their substitution or important synergies towards a faster processing, higher quality or the development of new food products.
New technologies can lead towards different critical directions in the development of an industrial system (Process intensification or emergent technologies), therefore the implementation and management of the implantation of the technology is fundamental in order to achieve the set goals.
For each typical process, a brief description of the applications of different emerging technologies is made. For each technology there is a link to the detailed sheet containing an overview of the technology starting with the brief historical origin of the technology and its main advantages and disadvantages. Then the scientific base of the technology, the natural principles and phenomena involved. Following, the description of the application on the different unit operations is made. Finally, there is an energy potential section about the findings regarding energy savings and change in the energy system.
Figure 1: Information content of technology description
The development of the industrial ecosystem is in great part the development of its technology. It is proposed two ways to proceed beyond the best available techniques in the processing industry, process Intensification and Emerging Technologies implementation.
Emerging technologies (ET)
Emerging technologies are those technical innovations in which technologies considered previously from distinct fields are converging towards a stronger inter-connections and similar goals. An emerging technology can be the case of a mature technology on certain field that finds new applications in another field. The development of the emerging technology in the new field can capitalize on the maturity of the same technology in the other field creating an effective close to market situation. All the emerging technologies in this work has this characteristic explicitly pointed out in the first section of the technology format.
In the case of emerging technologies for the food processing industry there are two main categories, thermal and non-thermal. The thermal ET is a technology that involve directly thermal energy in order to achieve the goal of the process. The effect of this category of emerging technology is related to improve limiting factor of the production process or fully overcome the limiting factors.
Non-thermal Emerging Technologies fulfil the unit operation goal using a different forms of energy or procedures that do not involve thermal energy directly, usually replacing heat leading often to lower process temperature levels. They include membrane processes, micro or radio frequency waves, pulsating method, inductive and resistive heating methods, ultrasound, ultraviolet light and other irradiation technologies, high pressure processing technologies, etc. As a result, thermal degradation of the product due to high temperatures and an improved solar thermal integration can be further reached, since the panels work more efficiently at lower temperatures
Process intensification (PI)
The goal of PI is to achieve optimal function of the process. Four basic principles are taken into account:
- Maximize the effectiveness of intra-and intermolecular events
- Give each molecule the same processing experience
- Optimize the driving forces on every scale and maximize the specific areas to which those driving forces apply
- Maximize the synergistic effects from events and partial processes.
By the use of emerging technologies limiting factors can be overcome making the space for a great improvement in process intensification. This leads to more efficient processes that exploit the synergies between processes and targeted process control, producing much more with much less.
Examples of new technologies applied to process intensification are:
- A micro-structured device can be used for reaction, heat exchange, mixing, separation (microchannel reactor)
- Microwave irradiation can be used for reaction, product engineering, polymer processing (e.g. curing, welding), food processing (e.g. pasteurization, drying)
- A Rotating Packed Bed can be used for reaction, distillation, absorption, stripping and nano-product formation (precipitation)
Integrated technology development
Very often emerging technologies and process intensification are vaguely separated or even mixed. Given the insights from the systems approach for industrial development and sustainability, the two main factors for the development of a system can be associated to emerging technologies and process intensification respectively, this is to the development of an industrial system in the same way that general development of a system.
Comparing the two possibilities for technology development (process intensification and emerging technologies) with the main parameters of systems sustainability development in the literature (efficiency and resilience), it can be observe that processes intensification is oriented towards efficiency and emerging technologies have a higher potential to build resilience in the system.
The traditional focus of technology development is oriented towards improving the efficiency of the production processes with little or no formal space for resilience. As the system sustainability studies have shown, the relevance of the resilience has a major role in keeping a natural system running and reaching the “windows of vitality”. The technology development based on emerging technologies may have a major role in the developing of a sustainable industry.
Emerging technologies can enable results that do not lead to direct efficiency improvements. These results can lead to improvements in the flexibility of the production processes, to the development of new products, to an easier incorporation of renewable energy in the production system and/or to the creation of connections with other fields. This results of emerging technologies can be associated with increased levels of diversity and connectedness in the production system. From a system perspectives in this same way, the management of emerging technologies can lead to a more resilient system.
The collection of technologies presented in this section can be used for processes intensification or emerging technologies. It depends on the management of the implementation of them.
- This section is based on the Thesis for obtaining the Master of Science degree on Industrial Ecology of Francisco Méndez at the University of Graz in collaboration with TU GRAZ (MIND Erasmus Mundus Programme).. A link to the whole full document is provided.