If you’ve eaten a power bar or sipped a muscle-building shake, you’ve probably
consumed whey — a protein derived from milk. Not long ago, whey was just a watery by-product of cheese making. But with growing global demand for foods fortified with healthy ingredients, whey has become a dairy superstar. It commands premium prices — and sales are growing at two times the sector’s overall rate.

Not surprisingly, dairies are eager to churn out more while keeping costs low. But as our Food & Beverage (F&B) teams have seen, producers routinely hit a production speed bump when it’s time to clean a critical, ultrafine filter, or membrane, crucial in making premium whey concentrate.

Jason Semerad, F&B senior marketing manager for the Global Dairy segment, described the challenge: Long cleaning and rinse cycles are needed to remove fats and proteins trapped by the membrane, a spiral structure measuring up to three feet long and six inches in diameter that cannot be removed for cleaning. And existing cleaning solutions eat into membrane longevity. Standard ultrafiltration membranes need to be replaced every nine to 24 months and run $400 to $600 each. With some plants using as many as 500 membranes, costs can add up quickly.

Fortunately, achieving more efficient membrane cleaning is just the sort of problem that scientists at our Membrane Center of Excellence in Monheim, Germany, are primed to tackle. In 2014, the team, led by Ralf Krack, F&B corporate scientist, accepted the challenge.

A CASE STUDY IN COLLABORATION

Over the following months, the Monheim team reached across the Atlantic to Research, Development and Engineering (RD&E) teams in Eagan, Minn., and to other Ecolab Innovation Centers for support. And when the product was ready for testing, the collaboration grew. “Our Marketing, RD&E, Supply Chain and Regulatory teams worked together across multiple regions to bring this product to market,” said Tina Dear, F&B vice president, Global Marketing. “They helped us maintain our leadership in membrane cleaning and set us up for strong growth in the dairy segment.”

MEMBRANE CLEANING IS NO SIMPLE MATTER

Ralf outlined the factors that make cleaning membranes challenging. “First, the membrane surface, with its intricate layers and tiny pores, provides many opportunities for contact with the whey. Second, the surface is like a sponge — and difficult to wash out. Third, the membrane collects fats, carbohydrates, protein and microorganisms — and the chemistry must address them all. And fourth, cleaning solutions can change membrane characteristics, leading to production and efficacy loss — and costly replacement.”

To address these factors, Ralf and his team developed a completely new program, a proprietary mix of alkaline, acid and patent-pending enzyme cleaners. The enzymes were critical in eliminating the need for chlorine and other ingredients hard on membranes — and the environment.

Once the RD&E team proved the formulation in the laboratory, F&B’s Marketing and Field Technical teams tested it with customers in Australia, Japan, the U.S. and across Europe. When the new program, called Ultrasil MembraneCARE 2.0, debuted in Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand and Japan, the division celebrated the unprecedented collaboration leading to the launch of its first global innovation.

LESS TIME CLEANING, MORE TIME PRODUCING

Now, with more than 200 installations of Ultrasil MembaneCARE 2.0 in dairies around the world, its impact is clear.

“Our customers are seeing outstanding results,” said Thomas Buehler, F&B Europe’s marketing director, Dairy, Beverage and Brewery segments. “They report saving 15 to 20 minutes of cleaning time on each cycle, which means hundreds more hours of production time each year. They’re seeing major reductions in water and energy use, netting thousands of dollars in savings and lowering environmental impact. And with membranes lasting an estimated 10 percent longer, they’re postponing replacement.”

“Dairy customers can look forward to even more improvements as we incorporate sensors and software into our cleaning programs to monitor and analyze time, water temperature, chemical concentration and other factors in the Clean-in-Place process,” said Peter Angevaare, F&B’s RD&E vice president for Europe, Middle East and Africa.

“We appreciate the collaboration with our team in Monheim, their expertise in dairy membrane processing and their testing capabilities,” said Paul Schacht, F&B technical support manager. “Their work — supported by a worldwide network of collaborators — makes us a global leader in membrane cleaning and care.”

And leadership in membrane cleaning is a big deal, with big impact. “Membrane processing helps food companies capture essential nutrients that are key to many of today’s fortified food products — orange juice, yogurt, cereals, bread, infant formula and sports drinks,” said Ralf. “Our food shelves would not look the same without it.”

“We appreciate the collaboration with our team in Monheim, their expertise in dairy membrane processing and their testing capabilities. Their work — supported by a worldwide network of collaborators — makes us a global leader in membrane cleaning and care.

Paul Schacht
technical support manager
F&B