1. What is the innovation?

Roughly 40 percent of fresh milk in Australia is spray dried to create products such as milk powders, whey powders and milk protein concentrates which collectively make up half of Australia’s >$2 billion dairy export industry. Spray drying is a method of producing a dry powder from a liquid or slurry through rapid drying with hot gas, and is one of the most energy-intensive process in dairy manufacturing.

Professor Cordelia Selomulya and her team from Monash University’s Department of Chemical Engineering, along with international collaborators in China, US, and France, have developed world-first ‘Smart Drying’ technology to help optimise the current industry-standard spray drying conditions and their effect on the final powdered dairy products. The technology platform comprises single droplet drying technology to investigate drying behaviour in relation to material properties, a specialised microfluidic spray dryer to generate powders under well-defined conditions to characterise their functionality, and modelling approach of industrial spray dryers utilising mathematical analysis and Computational Fluid Dynamics, in addition to a suite of analytical tools for powder properties.

2. What benefits does the innovation bring?

A more targeted approach to spray drying can help manufacturers in producing high quality powders – as well as tremendous gains in energy saving while reducing environmental costs, potentially through a combination of lower temperature spray drying and more efficient evaporation processes.

In addition, analytical tools such as x-ray diffraction and infra-red technology can be used to monitor fundamental changes in powder properties during storage and can assist in understanding the ideal conditions that produce cost-effective, export quality dairy powder.

3. What commercial success and/or benefit to society has it achieved?

The Australian dairy industry has the reputation of producing high quality products and Australia has one of the highest food safety standards in the world. With a growing demand for dairy products in Southeast Asia, Monash University research will help to define the right process conditions to produce these powders and also help extend their shelf life. The benefit is to increase efficiency in manufacturing by reducing the chances of producing dairy powders with poor quality shelf life.

Monash University is partnering with the dairy industry in Australia and China through the Australia-China Joint Research Centre in Future Dairy Manufacturing to support strategic science, technology and innovation collaboration of mutual benefit, by providing access to local and international expertise, market reach, and innovation capital through a high quality research network. The Monash Food and Dairy Graduate Research Industry Partnership, is collaborating with the food and dairy sector to explore the next frontiers in the manufacturing of new products, efficient distribution, and sustainable resource use, and training high level PhD graduates for the industry.

4. What lessons learnt can you share?

Regular communication to understand the challenges faced by the industry and capabilities available to address some of those challenges. Persistence to pursue research excellence and scientific integrity. International collaboration and network to allow access to a wide range of expertise and facilities otherwise not available locally.

5. How many new jobs has this innovation created?

From the start of the Smart Drying program in 2007 until now, more than 20 PhD students have graduated from Monash and more than half are now working in the food and dairy industry in Australia and overseas.