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In order to make the best possible use of raw materials, including rest raw materials, it is necessary to understand how raw material composition, processing and product quality are interrelated.

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Wenche Aale Hægermark  

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Nofima scientists Nils Kristian Afseth and Ingrid Måge are working together with biomega® to ensure quality control at all stages.

This year, it is 20 years since biomega® built its first biorefinery. It was the world’s first refinery that used enzymatic hydrolysis on rest raw materials from the salmon industry. biomega® processes all this raw material into valuable protein and fat products for farmed fish, pets and humans.

biomega®’s goal is to develop products that are of even higher value. To achieve this, it is important to have good quality control. Good measurement methods ensure that products are of the right quality and have high value. biomega® has been using NIR spectroscopy for a long time to measure product quality. They are now collaborating with Nofima’s scientists to develop even better measurement methods.  

The goal is to be able to predict the quality of the final product

“The idea is to measure the quality of the raw material that goes into the process, and then link this with other data from the process (such as pressure and temperature sensors) in order to predict product quality at the other end. We are also working on new product quality measurements in order to provide feedback on whether the process is going according to plan or not” says Nofima Senior Scientist Nils Kristian Afseth.

As part of this work, the scientists use NIR to analyse the raw material. NIR stands for near-infrared spectroscopy and is a technique in which light is transmitted through a food product to measure how much light is absorbed at different wavelengths. These measurements take place continuously and collect large amounts of data on parameters such as protein and fat content. Infrared spectroscopy (IR) is used to measure protein products. This is a technique closely related to NIR that provides more detailed chemical information.

Important to understand what is happening in the process

The leftovers from filleting salmon are used to make products for both humans and animals.

“The goal is to be able to control the process based on the composition of the raw material used. The raw material can consist of salmon heads, bones and offcuts, and the content varies widely during a single day of production. Therefore, it is an advantage to be able to continuously measure the quality of the raw material so that parameters like temperature and the addition of enzymes can be adapted to different raw material compositions. The quality of the finished product is then more uniform and correct”, says Research Director Bjørn Liaset at biomega®.

To achieve this, one must collect and compile a lot of data from the process and use mathematical and statistical methods to model the relationships that exist between the raw material, the processing and the final quality. One of the challenges of this work is to collect enough data that actually contains information about what happens if changes are made to the process. “As scientists, we want data with great variation in order to investigate the effects of the variables, but the industry naturally wants to run its processes under conditions that are as stable as possible” says Nofima Senior Scientist Ingrid Måge.

Spillages create challenges

Getting NIR measuring equipment to work in a process environment is not that easy. One challenge is that the sensors can get covered in a lot of spillages and splashes, both from the production itself and cleaning. Another challenge is that factors not related to chemistry, such as fluctuations in temperature and light conditions, can interfere with the measurements.

“A lot of things need to be in place to achieve fast, accurate and detailed measurements. Accurate and reliable calibrations which ‘translate’ light absorption into chemical components are a prerequisite. We are working to develop new calibrations that identify more chemical details, while also ensuring that they are affected as little as possible by external conditions such as temperature and light angle. These are research tasks that benefit both biomega® and other food producers”, says Nils Kristian Afseth.

When the system works, it provides unique opportunities to understand how raw material composition, processing and product quality are interconnected.  Through the collaboration with biomega®, the scientists have been able to confirm quite a lot of the knowledge that the operators possess, in addition to providing new knowledge about the quality of the raw material and the product.

Facts about NIR Spectroscopy

NIR (near-infrared) spectroscopy is a technique in which light is transmitted through a food product to measure how much light is absorbed at different wavelengths. It is a quick method of measurement and is suitable for measuring various properties of food, such as fat, water, protein, carbohydrates and pigments. NIRS is the most widely used on-line and at-line technique in the feed and food industry.

Facts about the research

The research started in 2018 in the innovation project called SmartBio (Smart sensor and optimisation systems for future food biorefineries) funded by Research Funding for Agriculture and Food Industry and partner companies, led by Bioco.

Further research is being conducted in SFI DigiFoods, funded by the Research Council of Norway and partners. SFI DigiFoods is led by Nofima and started in 2020 and will continue until 2028.