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High-Power Ultrasound technology to disrupt the honey industry and revolutionize beekeeping sector

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - LIQUAM (High-Power Ultrasound technology to disrupt the honey industry and revolutionize beekeeping sector)

Reporting period: 2020-09-01 to 2021-02-28

Today, most of us do not know which steps the honey follows from the beehive to our tables. Have we ever asked ourselves whether the honey we bought at the supermarket has been processed somehow before being bottled for consumption? Unfortunately, in most cases, the answer is yes. In fact, 90% of the honey consumed in Spain, especially honey sold by major brands, has been heated up to 80ºC before being bottled for distribution and sales. Pasteurization is done primarily to dissolve sugar crystals. The treatment keeps honey clear and most importantly, liquid, over the next 10-12 months. Consumers favor aesthetically appealing liquid honey and tend not to buy jars of crystallized honey in retail grocery stores.
The extreme heat applied to the honey lasts only a few minutes but has devastating effects on quality and diminishes the health benefits, although most of consumers are not aware of this fact. Natural honey, in its raw state, is a functional food. One of the most revered foods in history, it has been used for thousands of years for its healing properties. Naturally high in anti-inflammatory, antibiotic properties, it helps regulate digestion and can even help to regulate cholesterol. Those properties come from the vitamins, enzymes and other components present in honey’s natural composition. These substances are extremely sensitive to heat. If heated to a temperature higher than 50ºC, these compounds degrade and thus diminish the beneficial properties of the food.
LIQUAM®, the name of our industrial equipment, uses ultrasound technology to break down sugar crystals and delay the onset of crystallization for months. These acoustic waves become pressure waves that mechanically blast apart the crystals, but not by thermal means, which is what other technologies on the market use. With LIQUAM®, temperatures never exceed 50ºC, so the honey maintains all of the natural properties found in the raw product.
LIQUAM® is a patented system that promises to completely revolutionize the honey sector once it reaches the market. What’s more, the energy consumption of the reactor is 40% lower than the systems currently available. LIQUAM® promises to revitalize the Spanish honey sector, adding value at the beginning of the chain.
During the second six months of the project we have been establishing strategies for performance optimization of LIQUAM prototype, assessing different approaches for costs reduction, establishing different tools/methods for honey parameters testing (quality assessment and properties, including crystallization rates), analyzing different tools/equipment for cavitation measurements, manufacturing and testing different laboratory cells for hypothesis confirmation as well as implementing FEA and CFD to simulate different geometries/approaches, while reviewing the impact on LIQUAM’s performance. The overall costs for the upscaled system has been better estimated and testing with honey has started with the MVP.

During the RP3 of the project we have completed the overall mechanical project and the electronics project. We have also selected the final alternatives of bonding protocol and glue, as well as ultrasonic transducers own design. We have also partnered with two different demo sites for RP4.
Pasteurization is the global gold-standard method within the sector to liquefy honey and delay its crystallization. Unless specifically labelled as “raw”, most of the retail honey we can find nowadays is actually pasteurized. Other alternatives, much less common to pasteurization, are honey blend and honey ultrafiltration: Honey blend consists on mixing different types of honeys to control the fructose/glucose ratio, which helps to delay the crystallization. However, this method does not significantly improve shelf-life and cannot be applicable for the production of unifloral honeys, which is a very critical limitation to many honey packers. Ultrafiltration consists on filter the honey through a 5μm filter membrane to remove wax particles, small pieces of propolis, bee fragments and wood splinters. The result of this operation is the reduction of these crystallization nuclei, which slows down glucose growth, thus honey crystallization. The disadvantage of this process is that without pollen grains it becomes impossible to determine the floral origin, and consequently the geographical origin, needed for later authenticity and traceability. Also, this method does not significantly improve shelf-life.
LIQUAM®, conceived to overcome current operational drawbacks of existing solutions and represent a real breakthrough within the honey sector. LIQUAM introduces a patented technology for honey non-thermal processing based on High Power Ultrasound (HPU), with the ultimate goal of replacing the non-respectful widespread pasteurization process. With LIQUAM® we introducing, for the first time worldwide, High Power Ultrasound technology for honey processing at industrial-scale treatment rates.
Apiculture is an activity of vital importance to the sustainability of Europe, and plays an important role in agriculture, since bees are responsible for more than €30 billion a year in crops, being responsible for more than 30% of world’s food by providing pollination in about 1000 flowering species (therefore impacting on the whole food supply chain). Unfortunately, cheap imports of counterfeit honey from other regions are seriously endangering European beekeeping, and the consequences for food production are severe. Profitability is crucial for the sustainability of the apiculture sector. Introducing LIQUAM® technology for honey processing has the potential to allow European beekeepers to add high value at the beginning of the value chain, thus differentiate from low-priced foreign honey imported from Eastern hemisphere, meeting current market demands. An increase in economic profitability for beekeepers would help to revitalize the domestic industry and have a positive direct impact on well-being and stability of apiculture, where low-returns could cause beekeepers to abandon the sector.
With LIQUAM® we expect to provide a respectful honey processing that:
- Effectively liquifies honey, thus facilitates handling and bottling
- Does not increase the honey hidroximethylfurfural (HMF) concentration, thus allows the honey packers to meet legal directives
- Allow our clients to replace pasteuriation and sell PREMIUM QUALITY honey, thus leading to an increase in honey's retail price, ranging from 0.3 to 1.5 euros per kg, depending on the country
- Prevent honey fermentation and increases shelf-life
- Preserve honey's freshness, nutritive components, and quality during treatment. The honey consumers will enjoy premium quality honey in their tables in liquid state with all their natural nutrients
With LIQUAM we are targeting a global market of almost 6,000 million euros, with more than 2.5 million tonnes of honey produced worldwide. And the best point is that the demand for better quality honey is on the rise. The reasons are the increasing consumer awareness about the drawbacks of refined sugars and artificial sweeteners, and also the legal directives for beekeeping sector promotion and for a more accurate labelling of food products.
LIQUAM - Minimum Viable Product
Software developed to quantify crystallization rate of honey