Special Section on Food Engineering: Extracting Sustainable Food Sources | AIChE

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Special Section on Food Engineering: Extracting Sustainable Food Sources

Special Section

Chemical separation processes, such as liquid-liquid extraction, can provide sustainable alternatives in food production that support the principles of regenerative agriculture and meet the demands of decarbonization initiatives.

The 2020 report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) highlights the significant impact of global population growth and changing per-capita resource consumption. These factors have contributed to an unprecedented utilization of land and freshwater resources, with the agricultural sector alone accounting for more than 20% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions (1). As the demand for essential resources like food, energy, and water continues to rise, there is an imminent need to seek sustainable methods of food production. This pressing concern has prompted forward-thinking companies to turn to the chemical process industries (CPI) for sustainable solutions that bring commercially viable alternative food sources to the market and alleviate environmental stress.

To address the imperative of efficient and sustainable processing technology, chemical engineers are increasingly embracing process intensification. Process intensification entails a systematic approach within process engineering to develop and dramatically optimize processes, aiming for substantially higher efficiency, reduced energy consumption, smaller footprints, significantly improved productivity, and lower environmental impact. It involves the comprehensive redesign and integration of unit operations, equipment, and processes to enhance overall performance, resulting in lower-cost, sustainable technologies (2).

Liquid-liquid extraction (LLE), also known as solvent extraction (SX), is a unit operation that is often used in food production processes. LLE involves the transfer of targeted chemicals from one liquid phase (the feed) to another immiscible liquid phase (the solvent). Process intensification of LLE can be achieved through the use of agitated extraction columns. The objective of an agitated extraction column is to generate an optimal dispersion within the column itself, maximizing interfacial area and mass transfer (3). This generally results in smaller and fewer pieces of equipment, especially when compared to traditional mixer-settlers.

This article discusses how agitated extraction columns can be used for the efficient extraction of flavonoids and explores how this approach, and the implementation of advanced construction techniques such as modularization, can shape a more sustainable future for food production...

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