"Food processors wanting to condense, purify or concentrate a new product have a number of options," said Mads Skaarenborg, international filtration manager at GEA. "For example, there is mechanical separation and a whole range of membrane filtration systems."
The advantage of a pilot plant therefore is that it allows a manufacturer to find the best application by conducting trial tests. Different membranes can be examined before a final decision is taken.
"There are many different kinds of membranes," said Skaarenborg. "Spiral-wound membranes, ceramic membranes, even stainless steel membranes. All major food manufacturers will carry out some form of testing - if they do not own a testing plant, they will at least lease one to test new products."
The GEA Filtration Model M pilot plant is designed to test cross-flow membrane filtration applications in the microfiltration, ultrafiltration and nanofiltration ranges, and can be set up to evaluate a variety of membrane formats. According to the company, the modular design allows the plant to be built with customised solutions including construction materials and material finishes, operating configurations and parameters.
"The small size of the Model M unit allows manufacturers to test smaller batches of their product," said Skaarenborg. "And the pilot is completely scalable, directly up to full-scale food production."
Once the pilot test has been carried out, GEA can then design and build full-scale production units to any size or industry standard.
Membrane filtration is increasingly being used by processors in the food and drink industry. Skaarenborg identifies an increasing trend towards this form of filtration, and a move away from mechanical separation.
"Membrane filtration is a growing technology, while the market for mechanical separation is stagnating," he said. "The technology can be used in applications that would not have been possible 20 years ago.
"The advantage of membrane filtration is that you can make very distinct extractions, and in addition, the cost of membranes has gone down."
One of the attractions of membrane filtration is that it can be combined with other processes. "If you want to concentrate a product to, say, 90 per cent, you can do the first half in an evaporation tank and the second half through membrane filtration," said Skaarenborg.