A new electromagnetic induction technology promises to make beer and other beverages taste better and have a longer shelf life. Developed by Purdue University-affiliated startup Induction Food Systems (IFS), the new technique that applies precise heating to food processing has recently completed its major first round of testing ahead of a market launch later this year.

Every year, the world produces 195 billion liters (43 billion gal) of beer each year. That's a lot of brewing and the large scale processes needed to make all that lager and ale often results in an end product that leaves something to be desired in terms of quality. There are a number of problems, but one of the biggest is that brewing beer by the millions of barrels and then pasteurizing it so it has a reasonable shelf life means applying heat using steam.

This works, but it's like trying to crack a walnut with a sledgehammer, producing a trade-off in areas like taste. In addition, steam is inefficient, slow, and costly in terms of energy, and, in the worst cases, can result in something that's more like fizzy water than beer.

The new IFS process replaces steam for processing beer, juice, water, and similar products by using an on-demand system based on electromagnetic induction. In other words, an external coil connected to a solid-state electronics pack generates high-frequency radio waves that heat an induction element embedded in a section of pipe. This, in turn, heats the beer or other product as it passes through the pipe.

The result is that the system can either apply a quick flash of heat for something like pasteurization or heat an entire vat by recirculating the liquid. The process isn't new. Induction is common in areas like processing exotic metals and in the 1940s it was the basis for what is arguably the most frightening hot dog vending machine in history, but this new application is aimed to take on the US$20-billion food and beverage heating market.

According to IFS, the new process is not only scalable and easy to install, but also provides 600 percent more precise temperature control, is three to five times more energy efficient, heats 24 times faster, and requires an 80 percent smaller footprint than a steam plant. The next step is to use the technology to tackle the problem of fouling, where liquids break down into sticky, hard to clean off substances.

"It's similar to when you are making eggs and you have the gunk stuck to your pan when you're preparing them," says Francesco Aimone from Columbia University, who co-founded IFS with George Sadler, an alumnus of Purdue's College of Agriculture.. "Our preliminary testing shows we can reduce fouling in some applications by up to 30 percent."

The animation below explains the IFS process.