Today's food industry is putting considerable effort in the manufacturing of products with high quality, nutritional value and a natural taste. Appropriate processing methods are at the core of this development, because processing determines the product microstructure to a significant extent. Moreover, delicate ingredients and structural elements can be adversely affected in their functionality and nutritional value if the processing is too harsh. In the past decade, membrane emulsification (ME) has been identified as a promising method for making emulsions under relatively mild conditions. However, the irregular microstructure of current membranes limits the full exploitation of the benefits of ME. The project will combine ME expertise and microengineering technology to design and manufacture high precision, tailor-made membranes and membrane modules for ME, and will demonstrate their use in food-type emulsions.
The proposed project has three main objectives:
- To develop advanced, tailor-made microengineered membranes that are designed for optimal emulsification of food grade materials, both oil-in-water and water-in-oil. These membranes are either passive or piezo-actuated.
- To use the membranes in small-scale and bench-scale rigs for the production of food-type emulsions with a narrow droplet size distribution and/or very small droplet size, and improved ingredient functionality.
- To develop fine, multiple emulsions, which will provide new opportunities in the field of ingredient encapsulation and release (relevant for e.g., flavours and biofunctional ingredients).
Central to the project's approach is the achievement of thorough understanding of the process and the interaction between process and membrane. The academic partners will use modern computational methods like Computational Fluid Dynamics and Lattice-Boltzmann type methods to further the current understanding. The effect of piezo-actuated vibrations will be considered also. The theoretical approach will be augmented by small-scale experimental work. This part of the project will thus deliver validated computational tools for a detailed analysis of the effect of various membrane properties on the membrane emulsification process.
The use of these tools will lead to design rules for the membranes and the modules in which they are incorporated. On this basis, tailor-made membranes for passive and piezo-actuated systems will be designed, manufactured, and assembled into membrane modules.
These systems will then be applied by the end-users to produce food-type emulsions on laboratory- and (later on) bench-scale. The emulsion properties will be compared with the theoretical predictions, and with the properties of comparable emulsions manufactured in a conventional way. It is expected that the emulsions produced via the advanced membranes will be superior in terms of controlled drop size distribution and ingredient functionality.
Finally, the accumulated knowledge will be used to create stable double emulsions with small outer droplet sizes, and their properties in terms of shear stability, and sensory and release properties will be explored. The theoretical models developed will be used to obtain first process designs; experimental prototype production will enable product evaluation. The end-users will explore new product options, and seek patent protection.