A new device that detects processing losses in dairy plants could save the industry millions of dollars a year and help prevent pollutants from entering waterways.
Lincoln University-owned research and development company, Lincoln Agritech Ltd, developed the breakthrough technology - and it was then commercialised by Christchurch-based start-up company, CertusBio.
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The result is an automated biosensor capable of continuous monitoring in commercial operating conditions.
Known as Milk-Guard, the device uses a lactose-specific enzyme to measure the percentage of dairy products present in waste streams and processing lines.
These percentages are automatically sent to a dairy plant process control room, where operators can monitor them and make changes to the production process if necessary.
CertusBio chief executive Dr Matthew Jones said that due to the vast quantity of dairy products processed in New Zealand, large amounts of valuable products could be lost quickly.
"Given the significant economic return to New Zealand from the dairy industry, it is vital to extract as much value from dairy processing as possible by using reliable, fully automated systems to accurately and rapidly monitor losses in dairy processing waste streams," he said.
"Dairy plant operators will be able to improve the resource and energy efficiency of their plant processes by reducing losses of valuable dairy products and ultimately increasing company profitability."
Current loss-monitoring methods are reliant on retrospective testing collected over 24 hours.
"Because this testing is done after the dairy products have been processed, it doesn't allow for adjustments to be made while the plant is operating, so losses can't be limited in real time," he said.
Between 2-3 percent of all dairy products are lost during processing - and while this is inevitable to a certain extent, a significant proportion could be avoided.
The company estimates a total loss for an average dairy industry processing line is $6.5 million per year, and this also contributes to the level of pollutants caused by the dairy processing industry.
"According to Water NZ, irrigation is the most commonly used method in the country for treating dairy processing wastewater," said Dr Jones.
"If infiltration rates are too high, then the wastewater will spend insufficient time in the top soil to receive adequate treatment, leading to possible groundwater contamination," he said.
Dr Jones said CertusBio is seeking additional investors and a wider range of dairy processors to further demonstrate the economic and environmental benefits of the technology.
"Excellent traction has been made with the New Zealand dairy industry, but as with any new technology, significant investment is required to bring it to the market quickly," he said.
"Our next step is to expand the testing of the technology to international dairy processors and make on impact on a global scale."