GEA says it can reduce water and power consumption during the cleaning of membrane filtration plants by up to 50% with two new digital tools. The software duo, GEA Smart Filtration CIP and GEA Smart Filtration Flush, automatically intervene in CIP (cleaning-in-place) processes, pulsing the pumps and flushing the membranes individually and according to real-time water quality.

The company says that membrane filtration plants separate or concentrate substances without thermal stress. Membrane filtration is primarily used in food manufacturing – including new foods – and in dairy processing. Common product examples include dairy protein and fish collagen isolates. Until now, cleaning this equipment was energy- and water-intensive, requiring three or four individual cleaning steps with different chemical cleaning agents to be pumped and circulated throughout the equipment for a specified amount of time before rinsing it out with water.

In contrast, GEA Smart Filtration Flush uses sensors to constantly measure the permeate quality of the water during the flushing process, reducing the freshwater required. Setting blanket rinsing intervals and water quantities in advance are no longer needed as the software stops the process as soon as the necessary hygiene level is reached, and the cleaning agents are discharged. Depending on the type and size of the plant and the water properties, operators can reduce their freshwater requirements by up to 50%.

“A typical dairy whey protein concentration process needs two to four filtration plants connected in a series. This set up can require more than 100,000 litres of water, per cleaning cycle,” says Nils Mørk, R&D engineer for membrane filtration at GEA. “Today, we know from plant tests that we can save well up to 50,000 litres of water per cleaning in such large plants and 500 to 700 litres per CIP in small productions.”

Additionally, when less water is fed into the process, this decreases the amount of wastewater which needs to be discharged. “Many manufacturers can only clean their filtration systems successively because the peak flows during flushing of filtration plants often exceed pipeline capacity. That can create a potential safety hazard for staff and cause contamination in the production area. We eliminate this peak water flow problem with Smart Flush because we can significantly reduce pressure fluctuations in the water supply and reduce the overflow of drain lines.”

The second software module, GEA Smart Filtration CIP, is a software module that regulates cleaning efficiency. It causes the pumps to operate in a pulsating manner as opposed to running continuously. As a result, the pumps consume up to 50% less energy during the CIP process.

Traditionally, the best results were achieved by cleaning with high shear forces (mechanical washing with a strong rinse flow, for example).This approach meant the maximum allowed pressure drop across the membranes was applied during the CIP process – which entails much higher energy consumption. GEA Smart Filtration CIP breaks with this inefficient method, without losing efficacy.

Tests conducted by GEA on various membrane plants prove that the same level of hygienic cleaning is achieved even if the pump only operates at short intervals – providing the time, temperature and chemical concentration is kept constant.

“Our method, now applied to membrane plants, mirrors the basic principles used successfully by washing machines: agitate the clothes followed by intervals of rest, allowing the cleaning agent do its job,” explains Mørk.

Compared to plants with standard pump operation at full load, small production plants with GEA Smart Filtration CIP would save between five and seven kilowatt hours per cleaning. Large filtration plants would require 60 to 100 kilowatt hours less electrical energy per CIP process thanks to this innovation, says the company.