Hosokawa solutions support insect processing trend

In the face of rising pressure on the planet’s natural resources, the world is looking for more sustainable ways to guarantee a long-term food supply for the growing population. Insects have long been acknowledged as a rich source of protein, and they place a much smaller burden on the environment compared to animals that are traditionally farmed for meat. It is therefore no coincidence that process technology expert Hosokawa Micron is seeing a growing demand for insect-processing equipment.

Ashwin Jagmohan, Application Engineer Food at Hosokawa Micron, has noticed rising interest in the company’s mixing and drying equipment for insect-based applications. “A growing proportion of the food and feed-related enquiries we receive are for the processing of insects such as black soldier fly larvae, mealworms and crickets,” he says. “Another interesting area is the drying and milling of waste streams such as fish heads because of a more cradle-to-cradle mindset. At Hosokawa, we’re in an ideal position to help those customers if they require powder technology. Our Drymeister (DMR-H) flash dryer is widely used all over the world to turn products such as corn fibres, wheat gluten, starch, shrimps, krill and so on into a high-value protein powder – and it’s perfectly capable of doing the same with insects and by-products.”

Ashwin Jagmohan, Application Engineer Food at Hosokawa Micron B.V.

Drying, milling and classifying in one

The Drymeister combines drying, milling and classifying in one efficient and continuous process step. The material is fed into the grinding and drying section of the dryer’s main body. The Drymeister can cope with various kinds of wet feed material, from slurries and pastes to whole insects. The grinding rotor disperses the wet material into fine particles, which are fluidised in the grinding chamber by hot, temperature-controlled gas. The system is kept under a slightly negative pressure by the exhaust fan, and the surface area of the product is increased so that the moisture is evaporated instantaneously. The gas stream conveys the particles to the top section of the dryer where a classifying wheel selects the particles by size. Then the particles are conveyed with the exhaust air to a powder-air separating system such as a cyclone and pulse-air filter.

Overcoming the challenges

Insects can be difficult to handle when wet because of poor flow characteristics and cohesive tendency, plus they are temperature sensitive. The DMR-H overcomes these challenges easily, however. “The Drymeister has been engineered to dry highly moisturised material in a matter of seconds without damaging the delicate proteins. The system runs at a high air inlet temperature of up to 300 ⁰C, but actually heats the solids to no more than 90 ⁰C; the energy is focused on evaporating the water, so the nutrients and other properties are retained,” states Ashwin. The Drymeister also offers impressive flexibility: “There are lots of different process parameter settings that can be adapted to achieve the optimal particle size and moisture content – from the speed of the mill disc and the classifying wheel to the feed rate, the air temperature and the air flow. If desired, we can produce a fine powder with as little as 0.5% moisture in the end product.”

Drymeister (DMR-H) flash dryer

Energy efficiency

“Thermal drying processes use lots of energy. Our Drymeister is already very energy-efficient, but we’re continuously calculating for maximum energy reduction for each industrial system we offer,” continues the application engineer. “For example, with our economising step we’re able to preheat inlet air with exhaust air in a closed-loop configuration. Besides that, effective insulation materials allow us to achieve considerable energy recovery.” Another benefit of the Drymeister is its small footprint – it is around 75% smaller than ring dryers or spray dryers. Furthermore, the Drymeister offers good accessibility for cleaning, inspection or maintenance purposes.

Mixing

Insect farmers have to meet certain quality criteria with their products. But the quality of insect harvests can fluctuate due to seasonal influences, for example, which means that each harvest can have a different size, nutritional quality and so on. “Therefore, insect farmers can use our batch mixing technology to mix several batches of insects to achieve a consistent overall quality level,” says Ashwin. “Moreover, all our conical paddle mixers (CPM) and Nauta® mixers can be executed with a liquid injection system. This can be used for adding flavourings, colourings or oils during the mixing process. So we can support powder/powder and powder/liquid mixing in line with whatever type of insect-based product is needed for further processing.”

Conical paddle mixer (CPM)

In-house testing

All potential insect-based applications are extensively tested at Hosokawa’s in-house test centre, which is unique in Europe in terms of its size and diversity. “To provide the necessary performance guarantees, we test all insect-based applications on our smallest Drymeister – the DMR-1 – to make sure that everything works in practice,” Ashwin adds. “We always run the tests in close collaboration with the customer. During testing, we keep adjusting the various parameters until we arrive at a set point that gives us a stable run: a smooth process with a reliable constant input and output flow, minimal energy use and a uniform end product. We share the results of the various test runs with the customer in a test report. We also show what happens in terms of fineness and moisture content when we push a product beyond the set point and take it to the max. Even if it’s not relevant for that particular project, it can trigger innovative ideas for future applications.”

Future outlook

“We’ve seen a sharp increase in the number of enquiries this year,” he continues. “Various successful trials have been conducted and there are strong signs that many of our machines will be up and running in real-life production environments before long. Insects have been eaten in other cultures for generations, and insects as part of the Western diet as a sustainable protein source – whether they are eaten in whole or in processed form – could be a step in the right direction. It’s great to see signs that this trend is finally taking off, and even more exciting that Hosokawa Micron can provide processing equipment that is such a good fit,” he concludes.

Need help setting up your process?

Take advice from Hosokawa Micron, experts in food processing, drying and mixing technology, to make sure you can take full advantage of the huge growth in the insect protein marketplace. Our test facilities in the Netherlands offer great opportunities to test machinery, parameters and process flows, at both pilot and full scales to make sure your product quality and operating efficiency can generate the maximum return on investment for your business.

Testing is the foundation for a successful product or process and our development team is always ready to help and explore new processes and applications. They can provide laboratory as well as production sized trials and also have rental equipment available.

Hosokawa Micron Test Centre in the Netherlands

Get in touch

If you’re interested to discuss your interest in or production challenges in insect processing, get in touch with Hosokawa Micron. We can help you with a range of questions about this fast-growing sector, including:

  • How to achieve the highest quality powders, for better absorption and digestion;
  • The best and most efficient drying and mixing techniques for insect proteins;
  • The advantages of the unique Drymeister technology over traditional drying and milling methods;
  • How to plan, test and improve your protein powder production line.

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