Milk processing breakthrough
New technology developed by a Hamilton company could revolutionise how the dairy industry processes its milk.
The company, Hydroxsys, has developed a new method of water extraction using membrane technology.
Dairy processors currently use membranes to extract lactose and water from the milk prior to the drying process which converts milk to milk powder.
Hydroxsys' new resin-based polymer membrane could operate efficiently under much lower temperatures and pressures than existing technology.
It captured and recycled 90 per cent of water and around 85-90 per cent of energy currently used in water extraction, which could be then fed back into the manufacturing process.
Hydroxsys founder Daryl Briggs said he developed the membrane specifically with the dairy industry in mind.
It has attracted interest from a Waikato-based dairy company, which was in the process of completing a commercial agreement with Hydroxsys.
This would pave the way for the technology to be validated outside the lab.
The partner was not Fonterra, "but very local and very innovative", Briggs said.
Hydroxsys chief executive Mark Hartstone believed the technology could transform the dairy processing industry.
"'It has the potential not just to concentrate milk out in the field, but applications within the factory."
He said the technology was perfect for the dairy sector.
"They use strong acids to do cleaning cycles within the industry. No membrane can currently operate in that space whereas ours will be able to."
It also had potential to be used in effluent systems on a farm where the nutrients and water were extracted and the solid dry matter left behind.
Hydroxsys' immediate focus was finishing the membrane development and building one pilot plant for the dairy industry and another that would be tested in the mining industry.
He hoped these plants would be in the field by the second quarter of next year.
The company would then look to produce a commercial sized unit for milk concentration once they were validated in the field.
Dairy companies currently collect milk from farms and transport it back to a processing plant.
Existing reverse-osmosis technology during processing meant the maximum a dairy factory could concentrate milk down to was 50 per cent.
During this process, the milk had to be heated to 20 degrees and then cooled down to eight degrees.
Hydroxsys' system can concentrate the milk down to 75 per cent without requiring a change of temperature.
"It's a significant saving without any issues," Hartstone said.
The technology is also food safe. Milk would not be damaged if the membrane burst.
Briggs envisioned milk being transported from the farm to purpose-built hubs that would concentrate the milk using this technology before it was sent to the factory.
"They would be two 40-foot containers that would concentrate that milk to one-third of its original volume. Everything that it takes out will be water."
That concentrated milk would then be transported from the hub to the factory.
Rather than adding another layer of cost, Briggs said the hub provided a significant saving.
The current saving at an reverse osmosis plant are about 30 per cent.
"With our technology they calculated it was going to be 59 per cent," Briggs said.
This was why their partner was "practically falling over themselves" to try the technology, Briggs said.
A higher concentration of milk also meant less milk tankers on the road, he said.
The technology saw Hydroxsys selected as one of five winners of General Electric's Ecoimagination Challenge in Australia and New Zealand. Each winning company won A$100,000.
Hartstone said the cash prize came at the ideal time for the company as it looked to take its product to global markets.
"Its allowed us to progress certain projects forward that we had targeted for later."
It also connected Hydroxsys with General Electric, one of the world's biggest companies, he said.
"The dialogue we have with them now is increasing progressively and when we are ready we will be able to tap in to their resource and help take product to market."