Proteins on steel: science based solutions for fouling in the food industry
Heat treatment processes in the food industry frequently exhibit fouling behaviour, which leads to loss of production time and unnecessary energy and water use. Predicting and preventing this is often hampered by a lack of understanding of the processes taking place at a molecular level, especially for products with complex formulations containing a wide range of (protein) ingredients from various sources. The overall aim of the project is to extend the scientific understanding of fouling behaviour and the effect of cleaning agents. This is relevant for future improvement of heat treatment and cleaning and reducing carbon footprint (as fouling hampers heat transfer). To achieve the goal of this project the adherence of protein to steel surfaces will be investigated under well-defined conditions and advanced measuring techniques will be used to measure the physical-chemical interactions between the protein molecules and steel molecules. To enable the study under well-defined and industrially relevant conditions, a purpose-built measurement device for fouling will be designed, built and tested. To enable proper interpretation of the physical-chemical results and to understand how the physical-chemical interactions between the protein molecules and the steel surface relate to the adherence of the protein molecules to the steel surface, specific predictive calculation models will be developed.
The outcome of this project enables science-based improvement of heat treatment and cleaning processes. Benefits for existing productions include increased runtime, energy savings, minimal cleaning time and costs, reduced product loss, reduced water usage and increased production capacity. In case of new product development, the project outcome can be used for a priori mitigation of fouling and cleaning issues. This will prevent costly trial-and-error experimentation and unnecessary down time and will significantly reduce time to market for new products. Finally, the project results can also be used to improve the design of heat treatment equipment, wall material pre-treatment, and cleaning processes. This will result in further increase in runtime, reduction of cleaning time and operational costs.
Through the decrease in use of energy, water, cleaning agents and product losses, this project contributes to a more sustainable and safe food production and thereby contributes to the KIA “appreciated, healthy and safe food” and MMIP D4 sustainable and safe processing.
The overall aim of the project is to extend the scientific understanding of fouling and cleaning in stainless steel food production equipment, such that it can be used to optimize anti-fouling strategies and cleaning processes, by preventing or postponing fouling. Product loss, the use of water and chemicals in food production will then be reduced.
The design and construction of a fouling device (WP1) was performed in 2019 and completed in July 2020. Experiments on the fouling device (WP1 and WP2) are ongoing (2020 - 2022). Analytical methods/techniques were developed to analyse protein fouling on industrial grade stainless steel. These results are combined with measurements of protein accumulation under controlled conditions at steel interfaces using advanced surface techniques. These investigations are ongoing (2019-2022) (WP2). Data from the fouling device is being collected (WP3) and used as input for an improved model system to predict fouling (2021-2022).
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