Companies in the food industry are subjecting their place in the chain to intense scrutiny. They each want to help make this chain more sustainable. TNO supports food manufacturers in optimizing existing chains and processes, in developing innovative and sustainable processes, and in establishing new chains.
Companies are increasingly trying to meet their CSR objectives while, at the same time, cutting the costs of existing processes. Operating within a dynamic market segment, they also want to be able to continue to guarantee the high quality of their products. TNO supports companies in these endeavours. TNO's multidisciplinary nature allows it to harness unexpected combinations of technologies from a range of different market segments to meet the specific challenges of the food industry. This helps businesses to achieve their objectives. Using state-of-the-art LCA and modelling tools, it is possible to determine which innovations can make the greatest contribution to improving process efficiency.
A high degree of control over production processes is an important tool in efforts to achieve sustainability targets. In this connection, an understanding of process flows and chains (based on physical models and/or LCA) helps to channel these innovations in a given direction. Significant progress has been made in ingredient drying, which is a good example of an intensive, food-industry process. TNO has developed a number of technologies that boost the efficiency of the drying process. For instance, zeolite (a mineral) helps to remove water from air (including air used for drying) and to achieve control over process conditions. This technology can be used in existing installations. Another technique involves the use of inkjet technology to achieve control of particle size. The latter example illustrates the use of new technology from another market domain (3D printing) in a new application.
The growing demand for food and the limited supply of raw materials pose great challenges to the food industry. This requires the development of sustainable processes that make highly efficient use of the available raw materials or that can be used to produce high quality products from alternative sources.
It has recently been shown that Additive Manufacturing (AM) technology is well suited to the production (layer by layer) of complete 3D food structures. This makes it possible to manufacture products consisting of multiple materials, and with specific structures. TNO is making use of various AM technologies in projects aimed at developing foods composed of multiple ingredients. The challenge here is to identify the right combination of process, ingredient, and application. The importance of AM technology, in TNO's view, is that it can help to bridge the gap between finite resources and growing demand.