When we think about pasteurization, we tend to imagine a method that kills bacteria and mold in milk. But it's actually one of the most common processes in the entire beverage industry, carried out all over the world using an outdated and wasteful technology. To enhance its efficiency, AseptoRay, an Israeli company located in Maalot, developed a technological solution to pasteurize liquids without any application of heat. The revolutionary method saves about 75 percent of the energy costs and also preserves the nutritional value of the drink.
“Pasteurization is actually one of the most energy-intensive processes in the food industry,” says Motti Koren, director of the Business Unit at AseptoRay. “Almost every beverage in the world undergoes pasteurization, not just milk. This means grape juice, soft drinks, and even individual ingredients in Coca-Cola and Pepsi. In other words, it’s one of the most common processes in the industry, and it’s being carried out using technology that was invented 200 years ago.”
So what exactly is pasteurization?
“Pasteurization involves heating the product to a certain point at which the heat kills the bacteria inside. We pasteurize without applying heat. Instead, we use UV rays to kill the germs.”
According to Koren, AseptoRay did not invent the UV ray pasteurization technology. It’s already in place in the bottled water industry. The technological innovation that AseptoRay created has to do with UV ray pasteurization of non-transparent beverages.
“The problem with UV rays is that the light must be able to penetrate the liquid. Therefore it only passes through see-through liquids, such as water,” Koren explains. “The light can’t penetrate an opaque liquid and therefore can’t kill the bacteria in it. Our technology, though, works with completely cloudy liquids, such as milk and orange juice, even though light can’t penetrate them at all. This type of liquid represents the majority of beverages in the food industry, and we can pasteurize all of them with UV rays, thereby saving 75 percent of the energy costs.”
According to Koren, another advantage of the new technology is that it preserves the nutritional value of the beverages because they aren’t heated. “In the old-fashioned pasteurization method, you heat the product to a very high temperature, almost to the boiling point. Once orange juice, for example, undergoes the process, it loses the taste it previously had, even if it is cooled down right away. In fact, the biggest advantage of heat-free pasteurization is that it doesn’t compromise the original flavor or destroy its vitamins. The method saves on energy but mostly it preserves the taste and value of the product.”
Sales forecast: $1.3 million in 2017
AseptoRay was founded three years ago as part of MGT Industries, a company that has operated in the steel industry for 47 years, designing and making tanks and food containers. MGT is located in the Maalot-Tarshiha industrial zone, and employs 100 workers. AseptoRay employs three people in full-time positions and ten or so part-time engineering and other personnel.
About a year ago, AseptoRay – whose name was coined by pairing “aseptic” (germ-free) and “ray” – took first place in Clean Tech Open, a worldwide competition, held in San Francisco. The company has registered several patents for the product, whose development required the investment of millions, from private investors, the company itself, and the Israeli Chief Scientist’s Bureau. The 2017 forecast is for sales to the tune of $1.3 million.
“What’s interesting about us is that we’re embedded in a low-tech industry, which discovered how tough it is to survive in the world of traditional industry in Israel,” says Koren. “We’re located in Maalot, in the north, not in Herzliya or somewhere in the center, and the company realized that as a traditional institution that’s been around for almost 50 years it has to forge a new path if it wants to stay alive.”
How did you come up with the notion of heat-free pasteurization?
“The need arose from the dairy industry and the treatment of milk because the company has been involved with dairies for some time. The company started dairy companies in Africa, saw the types of bacteria there, and decided to look for a solution. Then it turned out that the entire beverage industry was clueless when it came to treating cloudy liquids and that the standard pasteurization method still relied on heat. With the help of the Chief Scientist’s Bureau, the company started a small-scale project to investigate alternatives, and the rest is history.”
Where do you operate at present?
“We’re a pre-sales startup. We’re running several pilots around the world, and the first sales are actually being finalized as we speak. An industrial system isn’t like a new app that you download. You have to visit factories, hook the system up, and so forth; these are lengthy processes. We’re a high-tech company in the industrial field. That’s what sets us apart: we’re selling a high-tech product to a low-tech industry. Furthermore, our product isn’t a piece of software but a steel-and-wires one, and intended for a traditional industry.
“Our newest pilot is being run at PepsiCo’s development center in Chicago. We also have pilot systems in place at a large juice manufacturing plant in Spain and at several Israeli companies. We’ve also worked with Coca-Cola Israel and Tempo, Israel’s largest brewer and second-largest beverage company.
“Our first actual sale is being concluded in Japan, with a giant beverage company. It’s the first customer to buy a machine. The Japanese carried out very thorough and extensive testing, so it took a long time, but things are finally moving with them. Other machines are in use in Israel and abroad but they have yet to been bought, only installed as pilots.”
According to Koren, another sale can be expected in the near future, this time to a Canadian buyer.
Who are your competitors?
“There are all kinds. The first is traditional, heat-based pasteurization, but that’s not really competition. Other competitors offer alternatives to pasteurization, but they tend to involve very expensive technologies, costing in the $1-1.5 million range per machine. Therefore, manufacturers aren’t rushing to buy, even though it’s a very strong market trend, especially in the United States. By contrast, one of our machines costs only $100,000-$200,000.”
“There are other competitors offering UV ray pasteurization systems for water, in Israel too. But the point is that those systems can only treat completely clear water and cannot be used on any opaque or cloudy liquid. We’re the only ones who can handle cloudy liquids in the food industry.”
What are your main export markets?
“Our major export markets are Canada and the United States, because our machine has already been approved for use by the regulatory bodies there, making North America our first target. In the United States, there are already UV ray pasteurization systems for semi-cloudy beverages, such as apple juice, and this is the reason the United States has already approved our process.”
Aging farmers worldwide need technologies
AseptoRays is one of a line of high-tech outfits providing technological solution to companies working in agriculture and traditional industries.
Gilad Peled, director of the Agro-technology Department at the Israel Export Center, explains: “Agro-technology is the field that provides technologies to agriculture – smart products such as sensors, drips, pesticides, hothouses, and products for chicken coops, hatcheries products, cow sheds, and so on.”
How important are technological developments for agriculture, other than showing off developments such as polka-dot tomatoes at agricultural expos?
“Today, the younger generation overwhelmingly wants to go into the high-tech sector, and very few young people want to become farmers. The result is that the farming population of the world is getting older. In Japan, the average age of farmers is 67; in China, too, young people all want to get into high-tech. Someone has to replace the working hands with technologies. To grow tomatoes, you need water, fertilizers, and so on. The smarter and more efficient the ancillary technologies are, the less money the farmer has to spend on energy and manpower.
“The world’s population is growing and there isn’t enough food for everyone. There is also a growing demand for higher-quality produce. The new technologies can help provide more food in smaller spaces; they enhance efficiency, reduce the use of expensive resources, and help farmers survive.”
Israel’s agriculture is in the midst of a profound crisis. From a business perspective, can tech companies rely on Israel’s farmers?
“We’re looking at the global potential. We want to export our developments and sell them worldwide. China’s population is 1.3 billion, and the Chinese are becoming health-conscious about their food. Somebody has to provide them with technologies. We view this field as having enormous potential to strengthen the Israeli economy and the country’s exports.
“The purpose of the Export Institute’s Agro-technology Department is to support companies by providing professional services, identifying business partners, and providing information about international tenders and projects. My own objective is to become familiar with the companies, to know what they do and what they need, and to create business opportunities for them by finding leads – bringing them the relevant individuals so that they can increase their exports and exposure. One way is by showcasing them at expos.”
Can this also help Israel’s own agriculture?
“Absolutely. Here, too, agriculture must become more efficient in order to survive. These changes are happening all over the world. Israeli agriculture serves as a sort of laboratory for experimenting with and assimilating new technologies. It is admired all over the world. All of these innovations are already in use in Israel. It is therefore important that the government push for the integration of these technologies.
“Technologies are born of a need, and that is the root of Israel’s innovation in agriculture, for example the various developments created to handle the water shortage. They say that necessity is the mother of invention. While that’s true, it’s not enough. You can invest millions in the development of a product, but if the farmers are wary of using it, the entire process will have been a waste. That is why government support is needed: the government must help the farmers assimilate the new technologies and eliminate the risk the farmers would otherwise be taking. At the end of the day, the government will benefit, because if the company can prove that the technology works, it will be easier to sell it abroad, and the government will benefit from the export taxes.”
Written in conjunction with the Israel Export Institute.