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Fruit gums, lemonade, cereal bars, ketchup and instant soups taste completely different but have a lot in common. You can find some food components, such as starches or sweeteners, in completely different food products. The international company Cargill produces such basic ingredients for a large number of companies in the food industry. Together with KIT, Cargill is developing a plant that will make the production of some of these basic substances leaner, more energy-efficient, and continuous.

Dr.-Ing. habil. Jürgen Brandner

One challenge here is to crosslink a liquid mixture of individual molecules into larger molecules. You can compare this to the production of plastic products. To make pantyhose, for example, a solid mass of long-chain polymers is developed from a monomeric liquid - nylon. Twisted into yarn, nylon can be knitted and sewn into pieces of fabric.

The process from liquid to solid, from molecule to molecular chain, is complex, consumes a lot of energy and takes a long time. However, the biggest drawback is batch processing, or batch operation. This process makes it difficult to achieve high production throughput, which is important for a company like Cargill. "We have found an approach with immensely high potential for continuous production," says Jürgen Brandner. With his team at KIT, the micro-process engineer is now optimizing a relevant production process in the large company.

"Innovation means having unconventional ideas and then implementing them."

Dr.-Ing. habil. Jürgen Brandner


The cooperation started in a seminar room. In 2005, Jürgen Brandner gave a presentation on microprocess technology and process intensification at a technical training course and recalls, "We had the technology and one of the workshop participants from Cargill recognized the potential for his own company." In 2011, joint ideas about how to put the research to use led to a technology transfer project. Now, KIT and Cargill are participating equally in the development over a period of three years until the product is ready for commercialization.

The foundations have been laid: While the industry-standard process takes several hours in batch operation, Jürgen Brandner and his project team need just a few seconds for this in continuous operation. Continuous production also allows improved quality control, thus preventing the need to dispose of tons of defective food ingredients.

Bruno Stengel, project manager for Cargill, explains: "Working with Jürgen Brandner and his team over the past years, Cargill has gained a deep understanding of the possibilities of micro process technology. This knowledge helps to develop new processes that are not only more efficient, but also safer and more resource-efficient to operate."

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Pictures: KIT


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