High pressure processing (HPP) has seen a huge surge in recent years as processors look to clean up their labels and boost the quality of their products. A 2016 study published in the journal Agriculture and Agricultural Science Procedia found that HPP destroys microorganisms without breaking covalent bonds, which is why it can pasteurize products with only minimal impact on their flavor, color, and nutritional content. Today, HPP is used to increase the shelf life of refrigerated products from fruit juices to deli meats.

The challenge for many processors is that HPP is typically more expensive than either thermal processing or adding antimicrobial ingredients to products. While the benefits of the technology are widely viewed as outweighing the costs, those costs can still be significant.

That’s the challenge that Spain-based Metronics Technologies is looking to solve with their new line of HPP equipment, IDUS HPP Systems. To learn more, we spoke with the company’s co-founder and CEO, Benito De Orte.

From waterjet cutting to high pressure processing

De Orte was one of five engineers who founded Metronics Technologies back in 2001. Their original vision was to provide engineering services to other OEMs. As a side project, they designed a waterjet cutting system for pastry, and over time more and more of their business started to shift to this manufacturing activity.

In 2012, De Orte and his colleagues started thinking about HPP. Although the markets for waterjet cutting and HPP are completely different, both technologies rely on high water pressure, an area where they already had experience. “HPP is technically similar to waterjet cutting,” he explains. “The machines have pumping systems, computers, piping, connections, pumps, very high-tensile steels, and so on.”

What’s different is the range of applications. “HPP machines have quite a horizontal application,” says De Orte. “Fruit and vegetable juices make up more than 50% of the market right now, but HPP can also be used for RTE meals, dips, fruit, and some derivatives from milk. It can even be used in the meat sector to control some pathogens, like Listeria.”

The desire to expand into these markets led Metronics Technologies to pursue developing HPP equipment.

Pasteurization, not sterilization

While many processors (particularly those who attend trade shows) are well aware of the uses and benefits of HPP, De Orte finds that there is still some confusion about exactly what the technology does. “It’s a pasteurization system, not a sterilization system,” he explains. “It lengthens the shelf life of already refrigerated products, but it will not make a sterile product.”

The pasteurization capability is what makes HPP a particularly powerful technology for processors that have to transport their products long distances, like exporters. He gives the example of orange juice in Europe:

“Orange juice here in Europe can be drunk fresh for 96 hours after squeezing. You can squeeze it, bottle it, and sell it as long as it’s consumed within 96 hours. With HPP, you can extend that timeframe to two, maybe three, months, while retaining the quality. After three months, you drink it and think, ‘Oh! This is good! Where is the squeezing machine? Where are the oranges?’

Now, imagine producers in the southern United States or southern Spain that want to export this juice to places where they don’t have fresh oranges, like the UK or the Netherlands. HPP gives processors an additional eight to 10 weeks in which they can export the products, sell them to supermarkets, and distribute them by truck. Those few extra weeks make a huge difference.”

Reducing the total cost of ownership

HPP provides high-quality products, but it’s not inexpensive. This is where Metronics Technologies hopes to differentiate itself. “Any HPP machine can give you a good result,” De Orte says. “As long as you maintain the desired pressure for the right amount of time, the quality will be the same.”

This is, in part, because of the strict ASME standards for this type of equipment. For example, De Orte notes that there isn’t much room for innovation when it comes to the vessel itself. “You must use certified materials and you have to justify any small change you make to the vessel,” he says. “So, it’s not a matter of making a better vessel or a better-performing machine. It’s a matter of total cost of ownership.”

To bring down that total cost of ownership, Metronics Technologies is applying the expertise they’ve gained from waterjet cutting to make their HPP machines more energy efficient. “Our machines will use less power to get the same performance,” De Orte explains. “They’ll do this using a clever combination of pumping systems, which we developed for high-pressure waterjet machines. We have more than 350 of these machines installed around the world, and we also developed the largest waterjet installation in the world for the food industry. So, we know how to reduce energy use in pumping systems.”

Metronics Technologies’ HPP machines are already certified for sale in Europe and all countries that accept European standards. They hope to have their American standards certifications in place by the end of next year, which means they’ll be ready to accept orders for delivery in 2020. Their initial portfolio will comprise three sizes of machine: 10 liters (for laboratories and universities), 50 liters, and 300 liters.

To learn more about Metronics Technologies and how their innovative pumping technology can reduce the total cost of ownership for HPP machines, be sure to visit them at PROCESS EXPO 2019. They’ll be in Booth #812.