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This page was published on 17/01/2007
Published: 17/01/2007

   Success Stories

Last Update: 17-01-2007  
Related category(ies):
Agriculture & food  |  International cooperation


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Infrared light inspects grain one kernel at a time

Despite bread being a staple of the European diet for millennia, determining the grain quality of its ingredients is still not an exact science. Taste and personal preferences aside, the quality of the bread we eat can be frustratingly difficult to establish. A quality control team can be effective at eliminating substandard wheat grains, for example, based on visual defects; it is quite a different story, however, to determine internal composition. Two European small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have come together in a Eureka project to develop technology for an improved grain-sorting system using infrared light to analyse grain quality.

Wheat quality can vary within a single plant, not to mention an entire field. © Matt+
Wheat quality can vary within a single plant, not to mention an entire field.

The quality of the bread we eat is dependent on the type of kernels used to make it. And while much research has been dedicated to developing improved starches and such, quality can still vary widely within a single plant. With ever-increased attention being given to food quality, BoMill and Cimbria Heid of Sweden and Austria respectively, teamed up to develop novel solutions for determining grain quality.

“The process of sorting grains by hand is very tiresome and inefficient, so we devised machines to do it automatically,” says Bo Löfqvist, CEO of BoMill.

Though sophisticated sorting technology exists, commonly it is most effective only for size, colour or density. “They are effective to a certain extent,” says Mr Löfqvist, “but there are still other characteristics, of wheat grains, for example, that cannot be detected by any of these methods and that nevertheless have an important impact on quality.”

Together, the two small European firms, under the auspices of a EUREKA grant, have developed the TRIQ SORTING system, providing end users with more sophisticated information to improve the quality of their product.

“We know that there are qualitative differences between individual grains of wheat,” he explains. “Even on a single wheat plant, which produces a maximum of about 100 grains, there are significant qualitative differences between the individual grains. Some of the grains will be better suited to biscuit production, for example. Others will make better bread. A third type will be best for producing pasta.”

The innovative system has the ability to analyse individual grains thanks to new technology developed during the project.

“The TRIQ SORTING system involves capturing individual particles, in this case wheat grains, in little pockets on the inside surface of a specially equipped cylinder, sort of like the drum of a clothes washing machine,” says Mr Löfqvist.

Each grain is treated with infrared light and the reflections are recorded with a specially designed detector. Each recording is then analysed to determine grain quality. The consortium partners report that the new technology is capable of sorting two billion wheat grains per hour, improving on their prototype by a factor of 500.

The TRIQ SORTING project is moving on to further testing, and ultimately full-scale commercialisation.

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