Uncontrolled foam production can affect productivity in a wide range of industries. This is a particular problem in the wastewater, pharmaceutical, and food and beverage industries. Foam control systems designed to gauge and monitor foam formation plays a critical role. The data can ensure that defoamers are only added in controlled amounts when necessary by monitoring and measuring foam production.
In the food and beverage processing industries, foam can be generated at various points in the production process. This is mainly due to surface-active substances such as proteins, fatty acids, and sugars. Foaming is a problem in distilling alcohol and producing frozen foods, frying oils, gelatine, fruit preservation, and vegetable washing.
Invariably, the resulting foam alters the product’s properties in various ways and significantly disrupts the process flow. Foam spills are damaging and time-consuming to clean up and dispose of. Defoamers are the most common chemicals used to manage foam, but product contamination is an important consideration.
Mass sludge and foam are two unwanted, complicated, and unpredictable problems for many wastewater treatment plants. In many cases, the filaments that cause bulk sludge tend to float and thus produce large amounts of foam. The foam can vary in depth and extend throughout the biological circuit to anaerobic digesters and dewatering units. The traditional approach is to dose the defoamer into the process continuously.
This dosing rate is typically set to deal with foam during peak plant demand. However, on average, this number is too high, and in some systems, little or no foam is produced most of the time. In addition, chemical addition is usually done randomly, in large numbers, and too late. This reactive method results in minimal control and reflects a poor understanding of the overall process.
The chemicals used can also exacerbate the foaming problem. In some cases, water or wastewater treatment plant can suffer for years without a lasting solution to the problem. In both cases, the high chemical and energy costs due to unnecessary pumping can be increased. Excessive wear and tear and damage to equipment also add costs.
Accurate foam control is critical in the pharmaceutical industry, especially during fermentation, which produces antibiotics, vaccines, steroids, and other drugs. Biotechnological processes often create these products that use natural organisms such as bacteria, algae, or animal cells to make the final product.
The best-known process of this type is fermentation, in which yeast is used to create alcohol. Natural organisms need a healthy environment to grow and perform optimally.
Products such as vaccines require high-tech fermenters for efficient production. This usually involves agitation and mixing of air or gases to function. However, natural organisms also tend to create unwanted proteins as by-products, and these act as foam stabilizers, creating the perfect environment for stable foam production on the broth.
As you can see, “excess foam” abounds in the pharmaceutical industry, and entire processes and equipment can be destroyed. A ruined batch can often represent large sums of money in the lost product before factoring in any material damage or cleanup costs.
To learn more about the use of antifoam agents, we invite you to inquire with ELKEM, which offers silicone antifoaming agents.
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