Titanium is more commonly associated with the defence and aerospace sectors than the wine sector, but the super strong metal is starting to attract interest in winery circles.
Adelaide company AMS Filtration has developed a new filter membrane that outlasts and outperforms conventional polymeric (plastic) or ceramic membranes by a considerable margin.
Three of Australia’s largest wine producers placed an order for Viti-flow following on-site trials and other orders have come from the USA (sight unseen).
‘Wine is quite difficult to filter. With polymerics and even ceramics the lumen or tube size is very small; that means you can’t take the solids of the wine very high’, said AMS Managing Director Gilbert Erskine.
‘I was told that even ultra-high solids filters are lucky to get solids to 30 per cent. Normally you are near 3–4 per cent. AMS is taking solids up to 80 per cent. Just that extra wine recovery means that the payback is only a matter of months.'
Erskine says the titanium filters can run 24-hours a day for a week then be cleaned in a couple of hours, compared with 6–8 hours of operation followed by nearly as many cleaning for conventional filters.
A new membrane and housing can be tailor-made to replace conventional ones in existing systems (AMS is doing just that at a winery this month), but the greatest advantage comes from investing in a new system.
‘Because titanium is so strong you can be pretty robust with your cleaning. You can take it up to 85oC and use steam as well as chemicals. If all of the equipment can also stand up to rough treatment then you are going to save an awful lot of time.’
While wine first got Erskine interested in finding a better filter, his breakthrough didn’t come with wine in mind.
Thirty years ago, while his company was building and installing chillers in the wine sector, he noticed and was frequently told how big a problem filtration was. He imported some polymeric and ceramics to make filters, but both materials were in their infancy and the results weren’t great.
So he turned to stainless steel and after lots of trial and error developed a good product and a successful business, but not with wine and not in Australia. The steel membranes were perfect for palm oil, and the company was set up in Indonesia and Malaysia.
Titanium was bubbling away in the background, however. AMS collaborated with the University of Queensland and later the University of Victoria, providing the infrastructure to support their research and Erskine developed ‘a fair body of knowledge’.
The potential of titanium was obvious and after returning to Australia he developed a filter membrane, the first of its kind in the world, and trialled it in the field with the support of a wine company. Three years later he bit the bullet and replaced his stainless steel production line with a specialised titanium line.
The key to success was keeping the membranes small and their walls thin: a little thicker than a sheet of paper. That overcame the two major problems with titanium; it is expensive and it is incredibly hard to work with.
AMS showcased Viti-flow at last year’s Wine Symposium in California and such was the response that it has been invited back next year.
It has also sold membranes to the dairy industry and a Victorian abattoir, but to Erskine the real potential is in wastewater, especially salt water. Titanium is not affected by chlorine, so can be used for pre-filtration for desalination.