Novel smart drying technology

Article by Amanda Jasi

Monash University
Pilot scale spray dryer at Monash University

RESEARCHERS at Monash University in Australia, along with academic collaborators in China, France, and the US, and industrial collaborators, have developed a smart drying technology that could be used to improve the quality, and extend the shelf-life of dairy powders, an important Australian export.

The technology suite, which has been under development for over ten years and is claimed by the team as a “world first”, was developed with the goal of optimising spray drying conditions, the popular methods used for making dairy powders such as milk and whey powders, and milk protein concentrates.

Using small-scale drying equipment, including at the scale of a single droplet, along with x-ray diffraction and infra-red technology, the fundamental changes that occur in powder products in different environments can be observed.

During transportation and storage, dairy powders can undergo spoilage, browning/caking, and the solubility of the powders can become compromised. The drying technology platform will help industry manufacturers understand how to minimise these changes. And, the platform can be employed in the early stages to reduce the amount of time and money spent on developing new products.

“The platform was developed to enable more accurate prediction of drying behaviour particularly when dealing with new formulations. Instead of using trial-and-error approaches, which can be very costly, we can use much smaller samples using single droplet drying to understand how certain materials would behave under different drying conditions,” said Cordelia Selomulya, lead researcher, and professor at the department of chemical engineering at Monash. She added: “The data can be used in modelling to predict outcomes from different drying conditions in a spray drying operation.”

Optimisation using this platform could also lead to reduced production costs through a combination of improved evaporation efficiencies and lower temperature spray drying.

This research is important to the Australian dairy industry. Dairy powders collectively account for half of Australia’s A$2bn (US$1.5bn) dairy export industry. The country therefore has to be able to keep up with demand, whilst continuing to provide the high-quality powder products it is known for.

Given the importance of dairy powders to Australia, Selomulya’s team is “…continuously refining the approach, to enable more accurate analysis” especially given the “wide array of feed formulations being introduced.”

The continued work could help improve the products of industry partners such as Bega and contribute to keeping Australia amongst the top dairy exporters in the world.

Article by Amanda Jasi

Staff reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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