Next generation sensors offer brewers promise of ultra-efficient fermentation

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Alcoholic beverage

Novel sensors being developed for a £1.2M project backed by the Technology Strategy Board could transform efficiency in fermentation processes used in a range of industries from brewing to biofuels, according to the firm behind the technology.

The APPLES (Advanced Process and Production Light Enabled Sensors) project is run by a consortium comprising GlaxoSmithKline, fermentation technology expert Green Biologics and the Centre for Processing Innovation (CPI).

It is led by Stratophase, a spin-off from the University of Southampton best known for its SpectroSens optical microchip sensor for monitoring fluids in-line.

The consortium has been set up to produce and test a sensor system capable of monitoring multiple parameters in liquids at the same time, in-line, in real-time, Stratophase business development and commercial officer Dr Sam Watts told FoodManufacture.co.uk.

“Stratophase’s focus within the APPLES project will be to integrate multiple parameter measurement into a single sensor head. Simultaneously monitoring the following is of interest; temperature, refractive index, turbidity, optical absorption, pressure and viscosity.”

The technology would enable the drinks industry to monitor fermentation processes far more accurately in real-time, he added: “We have identified that tracking the status of fermentations is something which Stratophase’s technology is particularly suitable for, and this has obvious relevance to the production of alcoholic beverages.

"Within APPLES, it is anticipated that techniques will be developed which allow specific points within a fermentation to be identified and tracked, for example determination of the biological growth rate and the rate of product evolution are expected to be demonstrated.”

He added: “Using multiple measurement parameters at each measurement point will allow much greater process understanding than is currently possible. As such the developments within the APPLES project are expected to enable tighter process control, allowing improved yields, minimised waste and better overall production efficiency.”

It was not possible at this stage to estimate how much such a system would cost for a drinks firm or biofuel company to install, he said:“At this stage of the project we cannot comment on the final system cost in detail, the aim of the APPLES project is to develop and validate new monitoring techniques rather than produce a new product.”

Greater control over production

More accurate monitoring through this next generation of sensors would enable the monitoring of products throughout the manufacturing cycle and allow tighter and more timely control over the production process, he claimed.

“Benefits include an increase in product quality and production efficiency together with a reduction in waste and energy consumption, making the new system highly relevant to a wide range of industrial processes.”

Romsey-based Stratophase, which started trading in 2003 with venture capital backing, has recently started targeting the food and drink industry with its SpectroSens sensors, added Watts.

“Food and drink manufacturers conventionally use refractive index (RI) measurements to determine sugar concentrations as part of their quality control processes. SpectroSens sensors can more precisely monitor RI, as well as giving other information offering significant improvements for food and drink processing over other technologies.”

SpectroSens sensors can deliver results in real-time, in-line, eliminating the need for batch testing in laboratories, he said.

Multiple measurement points can also be networked across a wide area using standard optical cable to a single readout unit. “This enables cost-effective multiple point sensing throughout the production plant,​” he added.

Related topics: Drinks

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