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Reducing energy consumption with forward osmosis [Interview]

Operations managers looking to effectively reduce energy consumption will soon turn to forward osmosis according to Lex van Dijk, founder and CEO of BLUE-tec.

We caught up with him ahead of his presentation at the Expo FoodTec Content Hub, to find out about the latest developments in membrane contact process technology.

Can you tell us how membrane contact process technology has evolved over the last couple of years?

“Forward osmosis is a low fouling and low temperature (mild) concentration technology, which is able to replace evaporators for the removal of water from products. Several developments have been achieved in the last years:

  • Membrane development: membrane flux has been increased by a factor 3
  • Development of membrane modules: modules up to 15 m2 are available now
  • Development of draw solution recovery: energy consumption in the field of operation of evaporators of 15 kWh/m3 water removed”

Which challenges does this technology help quality and operations managers to overcome?

“Forward osmosis technology helps operations managers to reduce energy consumption in comparison to the use of evaporation technology. Another advantage of this technology is the mild concentration (low ambient temperatures) compared to evaporation.”

What is innovative about the technology you have developed?

“There are several innovative aspects about our new technology. It is a low energy draw solution recovery system with a novel set up of membrane technology up to 150 bar osmotic pressure. The energy consumption is around 10-15 kWh/m3.” Forward osmosis is a new technology, so in general applications are new and innovative.”

What other technologies related to food processing are you working on?

“We are also working on ammonia membrane stripping, a membrane contact process to recover ammonia as a fertilizer from wastewater streams.”

From a food processing perspective, what are your predictions for the next 3-5 years?

“There is strong need to move to energy friendly concentration technologies in order to reduce the carbon footprint of the food industry. In principle, all evaporations processes could be replaced by forward osmosis technology.”

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