Reduction of the ecological footprint in the wheat starching process

Water conservation plays an important role in the production of wheat starch. (Image: Viresol, Gyar Kepek Nagyfelbontas)

In bread or cakes, but also in pasta or even beer, it is hard to imagine life without: wheat. Since the grain consists of about 58 to 62% starch, it is a popular and economical raw material for the production of pure starch. Due to the stabilizing, thickening, gelation and binding properties, wheat starch can be used in many ways – for example in the production of food or animal feed as well as in the paper industry. But there are also a wide range of applications for wheat starch in technical processes and the chemical industry, such as for the production of paint or for paper coatings.

Centrifuge as key equipment in the starch process

To produce starch, wheat flour is broken down into its components: A and B starch, gluten and pentosans. When processing the wheat, the process of separating the starch and the wheat protein it contains, gluten, is particularly important. In the so-called wet process, the starch is washed out by adding water. Centrifuges serve as the key equipment for solid-liquid separation to achieve maximum efficiency and high-quality separation results. This is the only way to create a high quality end product that can be used for the food industry as well as for the technical field. Therefore, all individual steps in the starching process must be optimally coordinated. Any kind of disturbance, such as unexpected downtimes or impure separation results, must be avoided so as not to disturb the continuous process. The mechanical reliability of all machines and equipment involved in the process is therefore essential.

In addition to wheat, drinking water plays an important role as a raw material in production: In the wet process, the water is used to separate and further purify the fragments such as A-starch or gluten in various steps. The use of fresh water produces wastewater, which is directed into treatment plants and treated there. This in turn entails costs. Therefore, the saving of water and its efficient use play an important role in the starching process – to save costs and at the same time reduce the ecological footprint in terms of sustainability. This can be done with an efficient process water system, through which as much water as possible is used several times in the process.

Sustainable and efficient production

Viresol deals with the production of wheat starch in a particularly modern and sustainable way. Founded in 2015, the Hungarian company combines traditional wheat processing technology with modern, efficient technology. On the one hand, this provides high-quality wheat starch with a starch content of 98%, on the other hand, the ecological footprint is reduced due to the reduction in energy and water consumption, and the whole process is more sustainable.

“Our company is characterized by making it our priority to reduce our ecological footprint,” explains Dr. Gabor Kemenes, Technical Director of Viresol. To enable short transport routes and to maintain the local connection to the region, the company uses Hungarian GMO-free wheat, i.e. without genetically modified organisms. The producer processes around 250,000 tonnes of wheat annually. In addition to wheat starch for the food industry and paper production, Viresol also produces wheat protein for bakery products, animal feed and ethanol from B-starch/pentosan for the chemical industry.

For the long-term reduction of the ecological footprint, the company works together with the separation technology specialist Flottweg: For the wet process, which starts with the flour dosing and ends with the cleaned end products, Viresol uses one starch and two gluten lines consisting of two Tricanter Z8E, four decanters Z6E, two Sedicanter S6E and the rest of the process equipment. In a three-phase separation, the Tricanter separates the A starch as a solid phase, the gluten and the B starch using the adjustable impeller as the liquid phase and the liquid pentosan phase.

View of a workshop

The centrifuges play an important role in the production of wheat starch. (Image: Viresol, Gyar Kepek Nagyfelbontas)

This first process step is essential to finally obtain an accurate separation result in a few subsequent steps. To ensure that the final products are of the best possible quality, the various components (A-starch as well as gluten and B-starch) are further differentiated and purified in separate washing and separation processes. The entire process within the wet process is precisely coordinated to achieve high quality end products and reduce process costs.

Water back into the process Water consumption in particular – which is of great importance to Viresol’s sustainability efforts – is as efficient as possible with the help of Flottweg’s separation technology and system design. A sophisticated process water system helps to ensure that as little fresh water as possible is used. In the gluten line, the process water is treated twice, first with Z6E and then with Sedicanter. Due to the double clarification, the process water is particularly clean and can largely be returned to the process. This process significantly reduces the need for fresh water. The system design therefore ensures that the water is used holistically. It is also confirmed by technical director Dr. Kemenes: “Flottweg has helped us a lot in reducing the amount of water that we have used until now.” Thanks to the efficiency of the machines and the associated process water management, the starch producer has reduced its ecological footprint.

For the company, the use of modern separation technology entails another decisive factor Benefit: As the usual hygiene requirements for food processing become more and more common in the starch industry, compliance with these standards is essential. Flottweg offers a suitable overall concept with Hygienic Design Equipment and a customized “Cleaning in Place” solution (CIP). Quality manager Zsolt Barta particularly appreciates the cleaning options: “CIP helps to remove sediment and residues from the machines.”

The temperature level, the cleaning liquid, the duration and the order of the media to be cleaned can be determined individually. Another decisive advantage is that the two gluten lines can be cleaned separately from each other, which means that production does not have to be interrupted completely. During the purification process of one gluten line, the capacity of the other line can even be increased for a short time to compensate for losses. In addition, the technology enables an increased safety standard due to the completely closed aggregates, because this minimizes the dangers of process contamination, but also for operators. The two partners thus show that a traditional environment such as wheat starch production can still be designed in a modern, innovative and sustainable way.

Two men in front of a screen with safety helmets

Together, the two partners were able to reduce the ecological footprint of the manufacturing process and optimize the hygienic design. (Image: Viresol, Gyar Kepek Nagyfelbontas)

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