Liquid Nitrogen Dosing – Pack Expo
Liquid Nitrogen Dosing – Pack Expo
Vacuum Barrier LN2 injection systems demo @MDM
Custom Sales and Service en Expo Pack Mexico
How to dose liquid nitrogen effectively
J. Fallon, Application Engineer, Vacuum Barrier Corporation
Gaseous nitrogen has been used to expel oxygen and increase shelf life of products. Liquid nitrogen can serve this same purpose while reducing nitrogen consumption by 80% over traditional gas tunnels. Whether pressurizing or inerting food or beverage containers, handling liquid nitrogen on a production line poses challenges.
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In today’s competitive food and beverage market, most companies are looking to reduce costs. One way to do this is to reduce the cost of packaging used in their production facilities. Even small savings on container costs can result in large overall savings because of the quantity of units processed. To accomplish this per unit savings, containers are made more light-weight by removing material.
However, with less material the containers are also less structurally stable which can lead to collapse when stacked, or improper labeling and packaging. In carbonated soft drinks, the presence of carbon dioxide in the product provides internal pressure making the package rigid and stable. Liquid nitrogen can be used in non-carbonated beverages such as bottled water, juice, and teas to achieve the same effect but without adding the "bubbly" feel of carbonation, which may not be desired.
Gaseous nitrogen has been used to expel oxygen and increase shelf life of products. Liquid nitrogen can serve this same purpose while reducing nitrogen consumption by 80% over traditional gas tunnels.
Whether pressurizing or inerting food or beverage containers, handling liquid nitrogen on a production line poses challenges. Liquid nitrogen has a boiling temperature of -320°F (-196°C), and it will boil away rapidly when exposed to room temperatures. Therefore, insulated equipment must be used to ensure efficiency and safety. This equipment includes an injection device capable of metering small doses of liquid nitrogen into food or beverage containers, as well as storage vessels or tanks and piping to transport the liquid nitrogen to the injection location.
Storage vessels generally come in two forms: large bulk tanks and small portable tanks called dewars.
Both designs feature a double-wall construction with the inner and outer walls separated by a vacuum space. This vacuum "jacket" allows the tank’s outside surface to be remain at ambient temperatures, while maintaining cryogenic temperatures inside. The nitrogen can be held in liquid form for quite a while, but even with this vacuum barrier, the insulation isn’t perfect and tank losses can range 0.5% – 2% per day. Large bulk tanks are typically installed outside and require longer piping systems to transfer the liquid to the use point. Dewar tanks are portable and can be situated closer to the use point, therefore requiring a shorter length of hose.
For either type of storage vessel, insulated piping should be used to limit losses and improve efficiency. There are multiple types of insulated piping, but generally they can be categorized as vacuum jacketed and non-vacuum jacketed.
Vacuum jacketed piping is a similar concept to that found in bulk tanks or dewars. An internal pipe is surrounded by a vacuum annulus that provides the insulation between the cryogenic temperatures in the pipe and the ambient temperature outside it. This vacuum space greatly reduces the heat losses, giving the pipe its efficiency. Vacuum jacketed piping is more efficient than non-jacketed piping, and offers completely frost-free operation. The vacuum jacket on this type of piping is generated by attaching the pipe to a vacuum pump. In a dynamic-vacuum system, a vacuum pump is continuously pumping and the vacuum quality is consistently improving. With the need for a dedicated vacuum pump running all the time, the operating costs are slightly higher with this style. The vacuum on a sealed-vacuum system is typically evacuated at the factory and then sealed off. Over time, this vacuum will gradually degrade resulting in increased heat losses and decreased performance.
Either type of vacuum jacketed piping can come in rigid or flexible sections. Rigid piping needs to be accurately dimensioned to ensure a proper fit in the field. Flexible piping is fabricated in sections making it easier to install as it’s more adaptable in routing around obstructions. Vacuum Barrier Corporation custom manufactures both sealed and dynamic- vacuum versions in a variety of materials and sizes. Non-vacuum jacketed lines are often insulated with foam, and are not as efficient with heat losses as high as 20 times that of vacuum jacketed piping. As the foam degrades over time it loses its insulating qualities. These piping systems also have larger outer dimensions making it difficult to route through tight spaces.
Nitrogen dosing equipment is the main component of a liquid nitrogen system. It’s often what production facilities are most interested in as it directly affects their ability to meet pressurization or inerting goals. Typically these are called dosers, and must operate frost-free and efficiently during dosing or idle times.
The reliability of a doser on a production line is very important as losses are calculated in minutes of downtime. As with any cryogenic device, internal exposure to moisture must be limited at all times as it’s a doser’s biggest enemy. Care must be taken during nozzle changes and maintenance to prevent contamination by moist air. In certain industries, there may be a requirement that the liquid nitrogen be delivered aseptically, and therefore the unit must be capable of being sterilized.
Aside from operating frost-free, a doser must also meet the goals of the production facility. Any bottling or canning operation will be looking for consistent pressurization or inerting of their containers. This requires the doser to consistently output an accurate dose of liquid nitrogen, whether dosing discretely or steady-streaming. Too small of a dose can lead to unstable containers and the possibility of collapse. For inerting processes this could lead to food spoilage. If dosed with too much nitrogen, there is risk of containers bulging or bursting, which could cause jamming and down time.
The challenge for the dosing equipment is to reliably and accurately control the liquid nitrogen dose for each container up to speeds of 2000 bottles per minute. In order for the production goals of pressurization to be met, a doser relies on consistent fill heights from the filler. Even a small change in fill height can lead to under or over-pressurization.
The doser does have the ability to adjust to changes in line speed of the filler. As the line ramps up or down, timing is adjusted automatically to ensure each dose enters the container. Likewise, dose compensation adjusts the amount of LN2 dispensed as the line speed changes. For example, as a line slows down there is more time between filling and capping which means more time for the nitrogen to boil off. Therefore a larger dose is dispensed to maintain consistent pressures.
Other factors on the production line must be taken into account as well to ensure proper pressurization. Travel time from the doser to the seamer or capper should be minimized to prevent excess boiling or loss of nitrogen. Shaking or bouncing of containers on the conveyors can force nitrogen and product out of the package before closure. Reliable sealing closures are also needed to maintain the pressure within the container after dosing.
VBC offers a range of dosers to accommodate a variety of line speeds and budgets.
It is important to address worker and machine safety when dealing with liquid nitrogen. When boiling from a liquid to a gas, nitrogen expands roughly 700 times. Safety relief valves are installed on tanks, piping, and dosers to prevent over pressurization and potential equipment ruptures. Where there are shut off valves in a system there is potential for nitrogen to be trapped. A safety relief valve must be placed between any two such valves. On bulk tank-fed systems, the lowest rated relief device typically is placed outdoors. If a safety relief valve does relieve, it is safer if it happens outdoors rather than inside where workers are present.
Cost is another key consideration of production facilities, and it’s important to look at the full picture when measuring costs of an LN2 system. Up front purchase price, installation, and operating costs must be considered jointly. When evaluating tank options, large bulk tanks cost more initially, but nitrogen is less costly in bulk. The need to continually change out dewars during a production run can also add hidden cost.
Using liquid nitrogen to expel oxygen and increase shelf life also allows for nitrogen consumption to be reduced by 80%, versus the use of traditional gas tunnels.
There are more options for cost reduction when it comes to piping. Inexpensive foam-insulated piping can reduce the initial price, but the operating costs associated with using more nitrogen can add up over the life of a system. Vacuum jacketed piping is more expensive up front, but it’s more efficient and will reduce nitrogen consumption and therefore operating costs. As mentioned earlier, reliable operation is a key component for liquid nitrogen dosing systems, and downtime caused by an inexpensive, foam-insulated dosing system can offset any perceived gains from a low initial purchase price.
A production facility considering liquid nitrogen dosing must take into account costs, both upfront and operating, reliability of the system from tank through piping to doser, and the safety of their workers. To be successful in this and to collect the proper information, please consult Vacuum Barrier Corporation.
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With PET outstripping glass as its preferred delivery mechanism, streamlining the overall production process to achieve maximum cost and performance efficiency has become the water bottling sector’s key imperative - notably though seamless production configurations, and a more sustainable materials usage strategy.
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In house blowing has long been the established norm outside of the North American market, with the adoption of more European manufacturing practices by the likes of Nestlé Waters and PepsiCo notwithstanding. The greater bulk of prefilled bottles still continue to be blown, palletised and shipped by a well established specialist rigid plastics converting sector.
An estimated 40% of the world’s bottling plants have been traditionally engineered and sourced on a perceived best in class basis from individual suppliers. But the emergence of new entrants into the industry aligned with the pressures imposed by margin sensitive time to market supply chain criteria, is likely to make them the exception rather than the rule.
"The proportion of water bottling lines that aren’t structured on a fully automated and integrated combination of blowing and filling equipment will be less than 20% of all installations worldwide in the next five years," Sacmi Filling General Sales Manager Matteo Quaini told water innovation this month. Not surprising then, that most of the leading blow moulding systems and equipment manufacturers are now heavily promoting their own one stop shop combination or integrated process solutions stretching from preform to finished pack.
Sidel were first to choose a combined blowing and filling system ten years ago through the introduction of the Combi. Their production capability has now been extended into the 34xs (extra small) for blowing, filling and capping a run of single serve up to 0.7 litre format PET water bottles at a rate of 61,200 per hour.
“The market immediately saw the value proposition, which gave us a considerable competitive edge at the time,” says Combi & Water Fillers Product Manager Andrea Lupi. “In the interim period we’ve installed more than 200 Combis worldwide; of which over 60% of these are used specifically for bottled water and the rest for carbonated soft drinks (CSDs) or aseptic-fill products.”
The key advantage provided by a combination approach is the elimination of intermediate conveying or accumulation equipment to realise at least a 4% gain in overall efficiency, as well as facilitating format changeover. Without air conveying, the Combi is also ideally suited to lightweight bottle production, significantly lowering costs for purchasing raw materials and energy consumption.
Because of the neck handling and positive transfer of bottles between blow moulding and filling, the system is not bound by conventional design limitations. This expands the possibilities for bottle shapes and light weighting, in turn leading to lower material costs that can represent anywhere between 65-80% of the total cost of an empty package. Thinner preform walls combined with total process control also result in significant savings through lower blow moulding air pressure, and less energy used for thermal preform conditioning.
In addition to delivering a streamlined process, the capability to offer front to end service opens the door to meeting the overall production requirement throughout an entire new start up plant. Sidel’s Combi 20 Select GL machines provided the bedrock on which the French company installed twenty complete lines to facilitate existing customer Ting Hsin’s extension into the Chinese mineral water market last year. Full configuration incorporated Alfa Rollquatro F35 labellers and Gebo conveyors, with each line producing 36,000 PET 0.6 litre size bottles per hour.
With over 70 combination systems installed worldwide, Krones also has a new solution on the market: the Contiform S14 PET stretch blow moulding machine directly BLOC synchronised with a filler to which containers are conveyed via a transfer star wheel at a synchronised speed.
Further to the concomitant energy savings, risk of contamination and soiling is also eliminated. Outputting speed can be as high as 72000 blown and filled bottler per hour. Krones claims that demand for its range of combination systems is growing by 40% a year. The company has an impressive strike rate in fulfilling turnkey operations. It has recently completed a €100 million installation of four fully integrated PET filling lines at Altmühltaler Mineralbrunnen’s new greenfield site near Kassel, Germany, with a projected daily output of 4 million fills. Krones has undertaken responsibility for the still and carbonated water products (plus a soft drinks facility), supplied the entire process section including the filters and water softening system low pressure compressors and the heating plant. Each of the four PET bottling lines incorporates a Contiform S24 blow moulding machine capable of delivering 44,000 x 1.5 and 2.0 litre PETbottles per hour.
Moving into combination solutions from the other end of the production line, Italian manufacturer Sacmi Filling has now installed over 25 of its Solo Mas 14/60/15 Combo system, first introduced three years ago. Comprising a synchronised blower, filler and capping facility, the Combo can output 22400 x 1.5 litre PET bottles per hour, but can reach nearer to 36000 single serve 20 cavity mould units, says Matteo Quaini.
“Operating within an atropine environment, which is what the big water groups are now asking for, risk of contamination is negligible. As the Combo eliminates the need to rinse prefilling, overall utilisation of factory floor space is significantly reduced. These systems aren’t necessarily that much faster, but in all round terms are considerably more efficient by eliminating two stages in the overall process.”
Using sustainable materials
Filling line equipment suppliers are responding with considerable ingenuity to the main routes of greater sustainability such as returnable or reusable PET, glass and lighter weight manufacture.
KHS has worked closely with its German customer the RhönSprudel Group in developing and installing ultra clean plant technology to meet the production requirements of over one third of the €200 million turnover, generated through mineral water packaged in returnable PET bottles at a rate of 30,000 x 1.0 litre and 75cl size units per hour.
The KHS’ returnable PET line comprises a superblock, bottle washer and ultra clean process filling technology.
Once depalletised, refillable PET bottles are conveyed direct to the superblock which comprises sorting, decapping, delabelling, and the company’s patented Innocheck FS (foreign substance) inspection capabilities. In passing through this preliminary stage, all bottles containing unrecognized substances are automatically channelled out via a separate rejection segment for disposal.
‘Good bottles’ are conveyed to the Innoclean EE single end bottle washer and rinser prior to filling, via a volumetric computer controlled single chamber Innofill DRV120 filling station system. This phase includes aseptic membrane and sealing processes. Further sterilisation precedes final capping.
Investment required in processing returnable PET with an estimated 7% rejection rate prefilling, and the time spent in completing the loop - it can take anything up to four months for bottles to make their way back from the market - are significant disincentives to adopting a recyclable strategy. For blow moulding machinery manufacturers looking to extend their reach into the overall bottling process, the development of lighter weight packages represents a far more obvious and attractive proposition.
While both Sidel and Krones have recently been grabbing favourable headlines in their pursuit of the below 10g lightweight format, there are industry reservations about whether the single digit construction technology is a viable proposition.
Sacmi is blowing between 13–14g for 50cl flat water bottles, which Matteo Quaini feels is about as low as the market is realistically prepared to go. "In terms of raw material price, then yes of course, it’s an improvement. However, an interesting comment that we’ve had from two of our customers - both of them positioned at the top end of the bottling sector - is that they don’t agree that continuously lowering the weight necessarily improves overall efficiency and line performance."
"Running such lightweight bottles on a line can be a problem. OK, if you’re a leading brand and can reduce the weight by say 1.5g then the saving can add up to several million euros. On the other hand, however, if you then lose ten points of efficiency on a complete line by slipping from say 95,000 bottles to 85,000 per hour then that can likewise result in a negative millions of euros. I believe that this trend is coming to an end now."
Ensuring rigidity and strength
While the prefilling carbonation process effectively adds rigidity to a PET bottle by default, formats containing flat water can require liquid nitrogen dosing to supply the necessary degree of internal pressure to withstand handling and transit.
US based Vacuum Barrier Corporation (VBC) is the global market leader in supplying liquid nitrogen injectors with over 1,000 installations worldwide, of which well over 50% are specifically used in bottled water sector.
Pressurisation is used for PET bottles, thin wall cans and a variety of other package types. This controlled, pure liquid nitrogen dosing, provides package strength to eliminate panelling and palletising problems; it also provides vending machine capabilities, facilitates cost savings with the use of lighter weight plastic and a greater customer appeal with a firmer package.
Another added benefit of liquid nitrogen injection is inerting to displace oxygen from the headspace.
VBC’s Nitrodose systems provide a precisely timed drop of liquid nitrogen into the headspace of the package. The cold liquid nitrogen turns to nitrogen gas at room temperature and expands rapidly. The bottle being capped at a certain time after dosing creates a defined internal pressure to the package.
Rate of dosing can be as fast as 1,200 PET bottles per minute (28mm finish) with VBC’s high speed system operating in discreet mode. An inbuilt dosing capability ensures that it cuts on and off between bottles to ensure no wastage and provide a cost effective solution in terms of consumables usage.
"Without the appropriate internal pressure it wouldn’t be possible to go with lightweight bottles for non-carbonated water," explained North American Sales Director Mike Johnson.
“We’re able to inject precisely as much liquid nitrogen as the customer and the bottle requires. That could be anything from just enough to get those PET bottles safely through a labeller, to ensuring sufficient pack rigidity for the bottles to be inventoried up to three or four pallets high. An average dose is around 0.1g, and the average pressure around 25psi. The dose would be unlikely to exceed 0.3g for bottled still water. The reason it doesn’t change that much across the different pack formats is that we’re only pressurising the headspace above the water content. The volume between content and cap tends to be pretty much consistent regardless of unit size. Bottles not going this route will tend to have a heavier wall construction. Otherwise, it could be that there’s either no real requirement for palletisation or else they’re already using secondary board packaging for external protection in warehousing and transit. In the US, for example, a 36oz case of water could be delivered into the retail outlet supported by a corrugated base and shrink wrap.”
Not all blow moulding manufacturers agree that the introduction of liquid nitrogen is essential to improve pack rigidity. According to Sidel’s Andrea Lupi: "It’s the evaporation of the liquid nitrogen just before closure, that provides the necessary pressurisation to enhance bottle strength; however, it’s not necessary as long as the bottle is strong enough to support the top load. With our ‘No Bottle’ technology we’re trying to work without nitrogen; it’s viable because of the shape of the bottle itself. "
New developments to the dosing system have been introduced with combination blowing filling systems in mind, says Johnson.
All the bottlers have CIP (clean in place). At the end of a run and before they get going on the next one, they go through an aggressive wash down process - sometimes using a caustic solution. If any moisture gets inside the old style dosing head, then everything would freeze up because water is the enemy of liquid nitrogen. In the past, a cover would snap over the dosing head to prevent any moisture getting in. But with these high speed automatic filling lines, bottlers were reluctant to have to remember to put that cover on and take it off as required.
“We’ve now introduced a automatic CIP protection device (available as an option on all VBC dosing systems), which ensures that whenever dosing isn’t in progress the valve automatically shuts off. It’s not airtight, but just sufficient to withstand any moisture.”
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Carbonated beverages going flat
as seen in PMT Magazine, September 2006
With carbonated soft drink (CSD) consumption on the decline, the growth of non-CSD’s is forcing beverage packagers to embrace unique technologies to maintain container consistency.
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Anyone over 25 years old can remember the peak of the "Cola Wars." The phrase was coined in the 1980s and 90s to describe the mutually-targeted marketing and advertising campaigns between Coca-Cola of Atlanta, Ga., and Pepsi-Cola of Purchase, N.Y.
The two largest beverage companies in North America each wanted to convince consumers that their particular carbonated potion was consumer preferred. While taste is ultimately a personal choice, there was no disputing the fact that cola was king. From year-to-year, soft drink consumption grew. As recently as 1998, carbonated soft drinks (CSDs) continued to show no less than three percent annual vol- ume growth.
In the year immediately before the turn of the century however and the four years since 2000, the growth of CSD consumption dropped. Regardless, CSDs still ended each year with plus volume growth according to beverage industry watchdog and newsletter Beverage Digest.
2005 marked the first time in at least two decades that Americans bought fewer CSDs than the year before. Sales volume fell .2 percent in the United States from 2004, as consumers, perhaps seeking a healthier beverage alternative, began consuming more waters, teas, dairy-based beverages and sports drinks like PowerAde and Gatorade.
While the percent decline is not significant, the trend has opened eyes amongst major CSD companies and brands.
Beverage companies, like Coca-Cola and Pepsi, have seen the declining trend in regards to CSD con- sumption and have ramped up non- CSD efforts to meet the growing demand.
While the percent decline is not significant, the trend has opened eyes amongst major CSD companies and brands. Beverage companies, like Coca-Cola and Pepsi, have seen the declining trend in regards to CSD con- sumption and have ramped up non- CSD efforts to meet the growing demand.
From a packaging perspective the rise in non-CSDs has fillers searching for ways to maintain stability in PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles and thin walled aluminum cans, without the internal pressure from carbonation.
These lightweight containers can collapse when stacked in warehouse or when transported by the caseload.
One solution is to create thicker walled bottles, but the rising cost of resin makes this resolution counterproductive at best.
The formula that is becoming popular as a means of ensuring stability, while also extending shelf life, is liquid nitrogen-dosing systems.
Liquid nitrogen (LN2) is dosed into the headspace of a beverage container immediately before closure. The cold liquid nitrogen is dispensed at -320°F, which turns into nitrogen gas and rapidly expands at room temperature, creating pressure.
Since nitrogen is an inert gas it doesn’t dissolve in the beverage and is released once the container is reopened.
Just Dose It!
LN2 dosing was first applied to beverages by Vacuum Barrier Corporation (VBC) of Woburn, Mass. in 1986, when Coca-Cola of Canada approached them about developing a system to prevent the collapsing of its cans of hot-filled Five-Alive juice.
VBC had been engineering, designing and fabricating cryogenic equipment since 1958 and created the Linjector system to produce a steady horizontal stream of LN2 at Coca- Cola’s Toronto plant.
The cans were fed under the gravity driven stream, allowing each of the cans to receive a dose of LN2. As PET bottles of juices, teas and water started to grow in popularity in the 1990s, VBC developed its Nitrodose system to vertically deliver controlled amounts of LN2 for pressurization or inerting. The gas also proved popular with consumers for a more cosmetic reason.
"People simply like the feel of a firm bottle when they grab a water or juice out of a store’s cooler," explains VBC vice president Edward Hanlon. The firmer bottle also dispenses much more consistently in vending situations, he adds. Bottles that do not maintain rigidity often jam.
As beverage makers of different sizes began incorporating LN2 into their filling process, VBC expanded the line of Nitrodose systems. There are now models to handle slower start up lines in the 100 bottles per minute (bpm) range, up to the highest speed PET and aseptic lines running more than 1,000 bpm.
As beverage makers of different sizes began incorporating LN2 into their filling process, VBC expanded the line of Nitrodose systems. There are now models to handle slower start up lines in the 100 bottles per minute (bpm) range, up to the highest speed PET and aseptic lines running more than 1,000 bpm.
"As the demand for [non-CSDs] has grown, the equipment has become better to match the other parts on the line," says Hanlon, noting speed as an example.
While the differences in speed are obviously vital to a filling line, the Nitrodose system’s ability to toggle between individual or discrete doses and a continuous stream of LN2 might be more important to larger filler’s bottom line.
A continuous stream of LN2 at lower bpm speeds fills each of the bottlenecks sufficiently, but also wastes LN2 in the large gaps between bottles. Eventually the spilled nitrogen literally creates a messy cloud over the dosing station, not to mention the cost of wasted LN2. While the cloud offers no health or sanitation risks, it can create that perception.
"In some cases lower speed lines would waste more nitrogen than they were using," Hanlon says.
The Nitrodoser Easy Doser, which runs up to 300 bpm, discrete doses each container. The pneumatic valves on VBC’s mid-range MS model can run 750 bpm, while the high speed HSV model can match all PET bottle and metal can line speeds.
Both of these models have the option to switch between discrete and continuous stream dosing depending on line speed. The Nitrodoser HSA is also offered for beverage solutions that call for aseptic filling.
"Because of the experience developed with aseptic lines, all Nitrodoser systems incorporate hygienic design features," explains VBC president Russ Blanton.
No Time For Change
With established CSD lines already running 24/7/365, LN2 dosing systems can be attached to established lines without incurring much downtime.
Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Northern New England (CCNNE), Londonderry, N.H. first incorporated a 750-bpm Nitrodose system onto its number three Krones filling line in June 2002. (Line three runs 12oz, 20oz, 390ml and 500 ml PET bottles.)
After running the VBC doser for several months and observing the HSV’s performance, maintenance manager Dave Labrecque pushed for the new dosing system to be installed on CCNNE’s line four.
Pressure variation and reliability issues with their existing dosing system were cited as the primary reasons for changing to the HSV system.
"Our old line four doser caused too little pressure in some bottles and too much in others," explains Labrecque. "Given the HSV’s track record on line three, the decision was easy."
In June 2004, CCNNE upgraded line four of its four-line plant with a Nitrodoser system, but the upgrade was temporary.
Line four, which is a dedicated line for the popular 20oz size PET bottles, was replaced with a new Krones VODM 130 valve filler in March 2006. (The new doser that was temporarily installed on line four was moved to line two.)
Since an entirely new line was being installed, Labrecque worked with VBC sales manger Mike Johnson from specs to start-up. The new line was needed for Coca-Cola’s expanding line of Dasani flavored waters, which have been well received by consumers.
"[VBC] was more than willing to do whatever it took to get the job done," Labrecque says." Within three weeks of shutting down the old line, the new line was in and bottles were being shipped out the door. Line four’s new HSV doser easily met its goal of 900 bpm with discrete LN2 dosing at top speed."
Johnson cites the dosing unit’s easy integration features for the seamless line changeover.
"Our Nitrodose Systems are designed to be simple to install and operate, while incorporating the latest technology," he says.
The 18-year-old CCNNE plant also runs a canning line, which was equipped with a Nitrodose system in September 2005. While line one runs at all line speeds, it typically runs at 1,750 cpm (cans per minute), while discretely dosing up to 1,200 cpm.
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MBE liquid nitrogen circulation and multi-wafer systems
Molecular beam epitaxy (MBE) is an epitaxial deposition technique which consists of growing layers of atomically thin materials onto a substrate. The MBE process takes place inside an ultra-high vacuum chamber in order to make materials with high purity and precision. To achieve such low pressures, liquid nitrogen (LN2) cryoshrouds are used to pump out residual gases.
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Test your bottling IQ
Mobile bottlers share favorite new packaging items
Of all the necessary tasks required to bring wine from vineyard to shelf, bottling is probably the one most often farmed out to specialists: the mobile bottlers. In an increasingly competitive market, mobile bottlers are motivated to maintain their rigs to the highest standards, offer a multitude of packaging capabilities and protect their clients’ wines from oxidation during bottling.
Nitrogen in the brewery
Nitrogenated beer is most closely associated with traditional English and Irish brews, with Guinness being the first brewery to patent a design for a nitrogenated keg in 1932. Fast forward to the present and nitro beers now are the trend in breweries across the country.
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Nitro beers have been trending in breweries across the country for quite a few years now. By definition, nitrogenized beers have about 70 percent nitrogen and 30 percent carbon dioxide.
In this article, we will discuss the process of using nitrogen in breweries, the advantages and disadvantages of using it, and why nitro beers have gained popularity. To learn more about the use of nitrogen in breweries, we interviewed Vacuum Barrier Corporation, a leader in supplying liquid nitrogen injectors with over 1,000 installations worldwide. We also talked to a few breweries that have embraced the nitro movement to get their perspective.
Brief History of Nitrogen and Beer
Nitrogenated beer is most closely associated with traditional English and Irish brews. Guinness was the first brewery that patented a design for a nitrogenated keg back in 1932. Mainstream commercial beers in America have traditionally been very carbonated and very light, prioritizing refreshment over filling flavor.
But in recent years, more U.S. breweries have begun using the nitrogenized method and adding nitro beers to their lineups. Additionally, some bars have started adding non-branded nitro taps to give beer drinkers more options. Nitrogen is being used as a pusher to deliver beer to taps in pubs and achieve the desired effect of creamy bubbles.
How Nitrogen Works in the Brewing Process
One of the main goals of using nitrogen for brewing is to push the beer at high pressure, but not alter the carbonation of the beer as it sits in a keg. Professional breweries often nitrogenate certain beers by chilling them to 32-degrees Fahrenheit and then using extremely high pressure to force nitrogen into it. Nitrogen doesn’t naturally enter the solution like carbon dioxide does, which is why a forceful process is required.
A restrictor plate is commonly used as a piece of tap equipment to force beer through tiny holes and create a rising effect. Some breweries have also developed proprietary processes to nitrogenize bottles and cans. As an alternative to pressurizing beers with pre-mixed gas, some breweries mix their own gas to combine bottles of pure nitrogen and pure carbon dioxide for a perfect blend. However, this process can be costlier and somewhat technical to maintain over time.
Advantages and Challenges of Nitrogen
An advantage of using nitrogen in the brewery is that complexity and diversity are added to the current offerings. There’s something charming and luxurious about a slowly poured pint from a nitro tap, with its tiny bubbles and thick head. Beer drinkers gravitate towards these beers for a smoother and creamier feel that stands in stark contrast to their carbon dioxide counterparts.
As a general rule, there are certain beers that work better when nitrogenized than others. For example, malt-heavy stouts and porters tend to complement the nitrogen process more than hop-heavy IPAs and pale ales. But one of the most exciting things about nitrogenized beers is the possibility of experimentation. Several breweries have experimented with nitrogenized double IPAs, for instance. Nitro beers are often favored by purists who value preserving the originally intended style of beer.
Another advantage is that it’s possible to store beers without oxygen to prevent them from going bad. Nitrogen is unreactive chemically and has a low density, which means that nitro beers can be less expensive to produce than carbon dioxide beers. According to VBC, pure liquid nitrogen dosing "provides package strength to eliminate paneling and palletizing problems; it also provides vending machine capabilities, facilitates cost savings with the use of lighter weight plastic and a greater customer appeal with a firmer package."
The biggest challenges of using nitrogen in breweries involve safety concerns, equipment costs, and educating consumers. Legitimate concerns exist regarding nitrogen gas leaks and which gas monitors to use to reduce risks. When using nitrogen, the barrels may not last as long and may need to be smaller, swapped out more often, and possibly wasted if they aren’t used fast enough. This is one reason why many brewers still choose large, cost-effective carbonated kegs. Through trial and error, some breweries have found that onsite nitrogen generation results in shorter production time, no gas waste, and lower costs.
Interview with Vacuum Barrier Corporation
Vacuum Barrier Corporation (VBC) is a Woburn, Massachusetts-based company that designs, engineers, and fabricates LN2 dosing and piping systems for the food/beverage, semiconductor, MBE, pharmaceutical/biotech, and beer/wine industries. Beerage Master Magazine interviewed Dana P. Muse, the company’s international technical sales engineer, to learn more about the technical side of nitrogen use and VBC’s connection with breweries around the country. Here’s how Mr. Muse responded to our inquiries:
1. Can you describe Vacuum Barrier’s relationship with the craft beer/brewery industry?
VBC has been working with both large breweries and craft breweries for over 20 years. VBC provides Nitrodoser®liquid nitrogen dosing equipment which can be used for two different applications – reducing oxygen level to preserve quality and increase shelf life, and nitrogenating beers for a smooth, creamy head. For the craft beer industry, specifically, reduced oxygen levels are critical to increase the range of distribution.
2. What are the benefits of using nitrogen in a brewery compared to the alternatives?
For nitrogenating beers, there really is no alternative. You must use cryogenic liquid nitrogen to achieve a pressurized headspace in order to get the nitrogen to dissolve into solution. Whether using a widget or by using a hard pour, there is no alternative for nitrogenating beers.
To reduce oxygen levels, nitrogen can be used either to purge the empty bottle before filling, purge the headspace before sealing the container, or both. Pre-evac systems for the empty bottles can be very effective so nitrogen wouldn’t be used with those systems. But for fillers without a pre-evac, nitrogen is an efficient way to purge the empty bottle and it also prevents the beer supply from getting contaminated with oxygen. Water fobbing can be used to eliminate oxygen in the headspace, but over-foaming may allow bacteria growth on the bottle threads, and the waste water created is much greater than with a LN2 headspace purge.
3. What are the biggest challenges of using nitrogen in a brewery?
The number one concern when integrating a cryogenic system is always safety. VBC has been in cryogenics for over 50 years, and we have worked with the food and beverage industry for our entire history. This experience has allowed us to continually improve the safety of our systems to the point that it is now no more hazardous than any other chemical or modified atmosphere system used at these facilities.
The operational challenges are almost always related to water. As you might imagine, with liquid nitrogen at -320F, it is critical to avoid any water contamination which would immediately freeze into ice and cause flow problems. Our exclusive CIP protection heater block automatically seals the cryogenic nozzle area when there is no production to prevent any wash down spray from freezing around the dispensing valve.
With the proper training, safety can be assured and freeze-ups can be prevented. These challenges are easily handled so that even a small craft brewery will be able to enjoy the benefits of a simple, efficient Nitrodoser® liquid nitrogen system.
4. What breweries have you worked with to supply liquid nitrogen injectors?
VBC has worked with large, international breweries like Guinness, Sam Adams, Miller-Coors, and others, plus small (but expanding) breweries like Sierra Nevada, Wachusett, Sebago, Genesee, Great Lakes, and many others. We are proud to offer equipment that fits the needs of our customers, but can still grow and expand with their business as their needs change.
5. Any other thoughts on the topic you’d like to add?
Adding a cryogenic liquid nitrogen injection system may sound intimidating to someone that has never used it before, but it is not new or experimental and there should be no hesitation to use it for improving the quality of any craft beer. VBC is happy to answer any questions that a small brewer may have about how, when, and why to use liquid nitrogen, so please contact us anytime. We have sales and service offices all over the world to ensure that we can respond quickly and professionally to any requests.
Breweries’ Experiences with Nitrogen
Beverage Master Magazine also thought it would be interesting to learn more about the use of nitrogen, and the advantages and challenges of using it, from a brewery’s perspective. Left Hand Brewing Company, which has been a modern leader in using nitrogen to make its beers, shared a few insights with us. We also connected with Stone Brewing to learn more about how this brewery uses nitrogen in its normal course of business. Other breweries that have been using nitrogen in beer production lately include Firestone Walker Brewing Company, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, and New Belgium Brewing.
Matt Thrall, Left Hand’s Director of Production told Beverage Master Magazine a bit about what inspired the Longmont, Colorado, brewery to start using nitrogen in the brewing process. He shared,
"Pouring stouts on nitro is fairly common, due to the desirable effects that nitrogen brings to the mouth-feel of beer. Nitrogen in beer creates little, tiny bubbles for a creamy and velvety texture that is a perfect foundation for chocolate, roast, and mocha notes. We began experimenting with nitro kegs in the early 2000s, eventually making its way outside our tasting room in the mid-2000s. By 2010, it was our best seller. Around that time is
when we got the idea to experiment with a bottled nitro beer, to bring the draft experience home. Milk Stout Nitro bottles launched fall of 2011 — and the rest is history!"
Thrall went on to tell us that Left Hand currently has its Hard Wired Nitro available, which is the brewery’s seasonal nitro coffee porter with roast and toffee notes. Braveheart Nitro is the brewery’s seasonal Scottish ale, which will be released in May. Braveheart is a collaboration between Eric Wallace, co-founder of Left Hand, and Randall Wallace of the film, Braveheart, serving as a homage to Clan Wallace.
Emily Armstrong of Left Hand told us that the biggest advantage of using nitrogen for brewing is that it creates a different beer and allows for a greater range of beer to experience. When asked about a challenge involved in the process, she replied, "In production, hands down the greatest challenge is getting the gas balance correct (N2 versus CO2). Outside of production, I think the biggest challenge is educating consumers to appreciate how nitrogen creates a different beer drinking experience."
Based in Escondido, California, Stone Brewing’s senior innovation brewing manager, Jeremy Moynier, shared with us that Stone has been playing around with nitrogen for several years at different levels. "We have put out some beers in kegs on nitrogen, but haven’t gone further than that," Moynier said. "We would need additional equipment and detection processes put into place to do it on a bigger scale."
Stone’s brewing process involves introducing nitrogen on the back-end before the beer is kegged. Moynier elaborated, "The process involves decreasing the CO2 levels and then forcing carbonating with nitrogen." He believes that the advantage of using nitrogen in the brewing process is the different mouth-feel and body of the beer produced. And Stone customers have taken to the smooth and creamy mouth-feel of its nitro beers. When asked about challenges involved with using nitrogen,
Moynier explained, "Obviously, CO2 is a major component in beer production so introducing nitrogen has to be done correctly. Getting the right levels and ensuring the end consumer will experience a proper, nitrogenated pour can be a challenge."
As a closing thought, Moynier added that, "CO2 is the backbone of structure when enjoying a beer. So, nitrogen gives you a different backbone, which can be quite enjoyable, especially with darker beers like porters and stouts."
At the end of the day, nitro beers represent something new, different, and experimental – all qualities that craft beer fans love to discover. There are many different factors to consider when deciding to use nitrogen in a brewery, but also some excellent industry veterans to turn to for advice and input.
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Nitrogen use keeps wines fresher, tastier and longer lasting
Utter the word "oxidation" in a room of winemakers, vintners and related equipment manufacturers and immediately catch everyone’s attention. This is how vital oxidation and its potential ramifications are in the wine industry.
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Utter the word "oxidation" in a room of winemakers, vintners and related equipment manufacturers, and immediately catch everyone’s attention. That’s how vital oxidation and its potential ramifications are in the wine industry. In winemaking, oxidation is successfully controlled during bottling by introducing a dosage of nitrogen. Concerns and the desire for increased consistency in flavor and bouquet, along with the opportunity for increased shelf life, give many winemakers the only incentive they need to consider adding nitrogen dosing to their bottling process.
It’s All About Science
Tyler Jones, Product Manager of Dosing Systems for Chart Inc., a highly recognized designer and manufacturer of cryogenic liquid gas delivery systems, said nitrogen dosing comes with multiple benefits beyond decreasing oxidation. "Nitrogen dosing is done simply for oxygen reduction in the winemaking and bottling process," said Jones, "But the benefits that come with nitrogen dosing include improved shelf life and a much better ability to maintain the integrity of the product as it ages."
Although it’s perfectly acceptable for use in corked bottles, Jones said it’s thought and spoken of mostly in screw cap applications. "Everything ages, but not everything ages well, or properly," he said. "With the use of nitrogen dosing systems, we give the wine the chance to age well and properly, staying as true as possible to the flavor profile that the winemaker came up with and intendedfor you to experience as well. It really will lead to a better product with a truer flavor."
A nitrogen dosing system is generally fitted in between filler valves and cappers/corkers on the bottling line, adding one drop of liquid nitrogen after filling, but before applying the cap or cork. As that drop transforms to vapor, it expands up to 700 times its volume, removing all other gases occupying the same space. Since nitrogen is heavier than oxygen, it’s easy to see how it can fill the headspace and push the other gases out, along with the chance of oxidation.
"A nitrogen enhanced environment is necessary to have the wine maintain the integrity that the winemaker intended," Jones said. "Sometimes wineries will also dose the bottle before the filling process and try to create a complete nitrogen enriched environment from the start."
Dana Muse, International Technical Sales Engineer at Vacuum Barrier Corporation also believes that nitrogen is a critical part of the bottling process. "It’s used to help reduce oxygen to improve the shelf life and maintain a consistent flavor and bouquet. Some small, controlled oxidation may be an intentional part of making wine, but over-oxidation during the bottling process alters the characteristics of the wine and causes premature spoilage." Vacuum Barrier Corporation engineers and fabricates liquid nitrogen dosing and piping systems for multiple industries, including the wine industry.
Nitrogen dosing can be used in two different ways depending on the desires of the winemaker. "Nitrogen can be used to flush the air and oxygen out of the empty bottle before filling, or it can be used to flush air and oxygen out of the full bottle before the closure is applied," Muse said. "Some wineries use nitrogen at both locations."
Some winemakers such as Tony Kooyumjian, longtime owner at Augusta Winery, a multipleinternational gold and silver award winner based in Augusta, Missouri, go even further, using nitrogen as often as possible. "All stages of the winemaking process lend themselves to oxygenation, so the more of those steps we minimize, the better," he said.
He was using so much nitrogen that about 10 to 15 years ago he finally purchased a system and started producing nitrogen on demand right on the property. While being costly up front, Kooyumjian said that the system paid for itself within approximately three years. He uses nitrogen in the pre- and post-fill process, but also in the lines to reduce the amount of oxygenation occurring during liquid transfers. By doing it this way, he aims to preserve the shelf life, purity, and integrity of his wines. Based on the rewards and recognition he has received over the years, it must be working.
What’s The Catch?
Before implementing a nitrogen dosing system, considerations, particularly those involving cost and storage, should be evaluated. Those considerations will produce different answers for individual wineries, as it is a matter of preference depending on when and how much the winery uses nitrogen.
"Nitrogen can be used and stored as either a room temperature gas or as a cryogenic systems liquid," said Vacuum Barrier’s Muse. "Nitrogen gas systems use the same simple storage and transfer systems as any compressed air systems, however, they are not very efficient at displacing oxygen because the surrounding air and oxygen can be reintroduced into the bottle very easily. To be effective, most nitrogen gas systems utilize long tunnels and large chambers that must be constantly flooded with nitrogen gas to prevent air and oxygen from contaminating the wine."
Alternatively, Muse said, "Cryogenic liquid nitrogen systems are much better at displacing air and oxygen from the bottle. The nitrogen is applied as a liquid drop, and as it evaporates and expands it displaces air and oxygen from the bottle. This expansion actively pushes against any air and oxygen trying to re-enter the bottle of headspace. Because only one drop is applied to each bottle, there is very little nitrogen wasted. However, the storage and transfer systems for liquid nitrogen are highly specialized and more expensive to purchase and maintain."
The use of nitrogen dosing systems can, then, be cost prohibitive, especially if your winery is a smaller one with limited resources. One such winery is Chaumette Vineyards, located within the historic river town and picturesque landscapes of St Genevieve, Missouri. Henry Johnson, winemaker for the vineyard, said they currently
don’t use nitrogen dosing in their winemaking process, and for now, don’t have any plans on implementing the system soon. However, Johnson said, "If our winery had the production capability of the larger, higher volume wineries, we would likely use nitrogen dosing for our red wines, but not the whites."
Nitrogen And White Wines
While many winemakers use nitrogen dosing for all of their wines, regardless of color, some vintners believe that nitrogen dosing may be unnecessary and not worth it for their white wines. It seems, though, to still be a personal preference, decided by each winemaker based on their thoughts, beliefs, research, and product lines.
Chaumette’s Johnson has studied the data and believes that nitrogen dosing would adversely effect their white wines, depleting the necessary carbon dioxide levels. "We believe that you really need the carbon dioxide in the whites to maintain the crispness and the brightness of the wine," he said.
Although Jones of Chart Industries understands that viewpoint, he disagrees. "There really are no cons with nitrogen dosing," he said. "Even with white wines, it won’t hurt and can always help."
Controlling Oxidation Of Wine In The Future
The consensus is that in 2018, nitrogen is the most economical dosing option and that the method – pushing out the oxygen before closures are applied – will continue due to the benefits it provides. Time will tell if newer, more efficient alternatives will replace nitrogen. Argon is always in the conversation, mainly because it has a denser, blanketing quality, flowing downward when released to create a blanketing effect similar to filling a bathtub with water, pushing all other gases and oxygen up and out of the container. Unfortunately, if current market values hold, argon will remain a more expensive option and price itself out of mainstream dosing alternatives. No matter what winemakers use for preventing oxidation, equipment manufacturers are prepared.
"Nitrogen will probably continue to be the gas of choice in dosing systems," said Jones. "There are a lot of questions regarding argon, however, so our dosing machines are able to be used with argon as well as nitrogen."
However, Jones believes that any real changes and improvements in the future will likely come from the advancement of machinery and technology. "We have a new doser model coming which will be our new flagship model," he said, "And it will immediately increase the accuracy of the dosages. Further technological improvements will make the dosing systems more economical by improving speed, flexibility, and overall efficiency. That’s where the future improvements will be made."
This improved efficiency and flexibility will be vital for increasing revenue in the wine industry, where consumer demand for package variety grows. Muse told The Grapevine Magazine, "One of the more recent developments in wineries has been the popularity of single-serve containers, namely aluminum cans and paperboard cartons. For all non-carbonated wines, a thin wall aluminum can would be very soft and easily crushed, However, by applying a small drop of liquid nitrogen just before the lid is applied, you can trap the expanding gas to create internal pressure and provide strength to the can. Plus, you get some benefit of pushing air out of the headspace to reduce oxygen."
Jones agrees. "Cans and containers need some pressure, and by having a nitrogen dosing machine to provide that pressure, the wineries can create additional revenue streams by offering new and unique packaging options to the consumer," he said.
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