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About the book
Material and energy

Fluid-flow theory
Fluid-flow applications
Heat-transfer theory

separation processes


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Index to Examples
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Conservation of mass and energy
Overall view of an engineering process.

The study of process engineering is an attempt to combine all forms of physical processing into a small number of basic operations, which are called unit operations. Food processes may seem bewildering in their diversity, but careful analysis will show that these complicated and differing processes can be broken down into a small number of unit operations. For example, consider heating of which innumerable instances occur in every food industry. There are many reasons for heating and cooling - for example, the baking of bread, the freezing of meat, the tempering of oils.

But in process engineering, the prime considerations are firstly, the extent of the heating or cooling that is required and secondly, the conditions under which this must be accomplished. Thus, this physical process qualifies to be called a unit operation. It is called 'heat transfer'.

The essential concept is therefore to divide physical food processes into basic unit operations, each of which stands alone and depends on coherent physical principles. For example, heat transfer is a unit operation and the fundamental physical principle underlying it is that heat energy will be transferred spontaneously from hotter to colder bodies.

Because of the dependence of the unit operation on a physical principle, or a small group of associated principles, quantitative relationships in the form of mathematical equations can be built to describe them. The equations can be used to follow what is happening in the process, and to control and modify the process if required.

Important unit operations in the food industry are fluid flow, heat transfer, drying, evaporation, contact equilibrium processes (which include distillation, extraction, gas absorption, crystallization, and membrane processes), mechanical separations (which include filtration, centrifugation, sedimentation and sieving), size reduction and mixing.

These unit operations, and in particular the basic principles on which they depend, are the subject of this book, rather than the equipment used or the materials being processed.

Two very important laws which all unit operations obey are the laws of conservation of mass and energy.

Conservation of Mass and Energy

The law of conservation of mass states that mass can neither be created nor destroyed. Thus in a processing plant, the total mass of material entering the plant must equal the total mass of material leaving the plant, less any accumulation left in the plant. If there is no accumulation, then the simple rule holds that "what goes in must come out". Similarly all material entering a unit operation must in due course leave.

For example, if milk is being fed into a centrifuge to separate it into skim milk and cream, under the law of conservation of mass the total number of kilograms of material (milk) entering the centrifuge per minute must equal the total number of kilograms of material (skim milk and cream) that leave the centrifuge per minute.

Similarly, the law of conservation of mass applies to each component in the entering materials. For example, considering the butter fat in the milk entering the centrifuge, the weight of butter fat entering the centrifuge per minute must be equal to the weight of butter fat leaving the centrifuge per minute. A similar relationship will hold for the other components, proteins, milk sugars and so on.

The law of conservation of energy states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. The total energy in the materials entering the processing plant, plus the energy added in the plant, must equal the total energy leaving the plant.

This is a more complex concept than the conservation of mass, as energy can take various forms such as kinetic energy, potential energy, heat energy, chemical energy, electrical energy and so on.
During processing, some of these forms of energy can be converted from one to another. Mechanical energy in a fluid can be converted through friction into heat energy. Chemical energy in food is converted by the human body into mechanical energy.

Note that it is the sum total of all these forms of energy that is conserved.

For example, consider the pasteurizing process for milk, in which milk is pumped through a heat exchanger and is first heated and then cooled. The energy can be considered either over the whole plant or only as it affects the milk. For total plant energy, the balance must include: the conversion in the pump of electrical energy to kinetic and heat energy, the kinetic and potential energies of the milk entering and leaving the plant and the various kinds of energy in the heating and cooling sections,as well as the exiting heat, kinetic and potential energies.
To the food technologist, the energies affecting the product are the most important. In the case of the pasteurizer, the energy affecting the product is the heat energy in the milk. Heat energy is added to the milk by the pump and by the hot water passing through the heat exchanger. Cooling water then removes part of the heat energy and some of the heat energy is also lost to the surroundings.

The heat energy leaving in the milk must equal the heat energy in the milk entering the pasteurizer plus or minus any heat added or taken away in the plant.

Heat energy leaving in milk = initial heat energy
                                          + heat energy added by pump
                                          + heat energy added in heating section
                                          - heat energy taken out in cooling section
                                          - heat energy lost to surroundings.

The law of conservation of energy can also apply to part of a process. For example, considering the heating section of the heat exchanger in the pasteurizer, the heat lost by the hot water must be equal to the sum of the heat gained by the milk and the heat lost from the heat exchanger to its surroundings.

From these laws of conservation of mass and energy, a balance sheet for materials and for energy can be drawn up at all times for a unit operation. These are called material balances and energy balances.

Overall View of an Engineering Process

Using a material balance and an energy balance, a food engineering process can be viewed overall or as a series of units. Each unit is a unit operation. The unit operation can be represented by a box as shown in Fig. 1.1.

Fig. 1.1 Unit operation

Into the box go the raw materials and energy, out of the box come the desired products, by-products, wastes and energy. The equipment within the box will enable the required changes to be made with as little waste of materials and energy as possible. In other words, the desired products are required to be maximized and the undesired by-products and wastes minimized. Control over the process is exercised by regulating the flow of energy, or of materials, or of both.


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Unit Operations in Food Processing. Copyright © 1983, R. L. Earle. :: Published by NZIFST (Inc.)
NZIFST - The New Zealand Institute of Food Science & Technology