Osmosis cuts Fonterra's milk transport costs

By Chris Mercer

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Tetra pak Fonterra

A reverse osmosis machine capable of extracting excess water from
milk is expected to significantly cut transport costs for New
Zealand dairy co-operative Fonterra.

Fonterra said it was installing Australasia's first reverse osmosis equipment, from Tetra Pak New Zealand, at its factory in Tuamarina.

The milk concentration technology works by filtering milk, rather like straining tea. This way, the milk solids are retained and the excess water can be discarded, which means less volume to transport.

The membrane pores are usually very small so that only the water can get through to the next chamber as pressure is applied to the milk. Temperatures needed can range from less than 40°C to around 80°C depending on what kind of membrane is used.

Fonterra said the new technology should mean almost 3,000 fewer lorry movements every year on the roads linking its supply chain in the area.

Tankers currently take milk from producers in Marlborough to the Tuamarina factory, from which it is taken on to Fonterra's Clandeboye processing facility.

"It's an environmentally-friendly solution that is going to save us money at the same time,"​ said Rupert Soar, the dairy group's general technical manager.

Food firms around the world have been hit hard by knock-on costs from ever-rising oil prices this year, and several dairy processors in Europe have had to lower earnings estimates as a result.

Anything that could save on transport costs would therefore be a priority.

Canada's University of Guelph says that ultrafiltration, a process very similar to reverse osmosis, can cut milk volume down by half.

Tetra Pak has already supplied reverse osmosis equipment to other food firms, including Canadian dairy group Gay Lea Foods. There, Tetra Pak said the module was capable of handling 35,000 litres of water per hour.

Road congestion is also a rising problem.

Many developed countries, especially crowded ones like the UK, have reconciled themselves to building more roads over the next decade to cope with growing traffic problems.

A similar problem exists in New Zealand, where the National Party said the costs to industry of an under-funded road system were huge.

"Roads generate growth, modern transport runs on roads, and New Zealand doesn't have enough of them,"​ it said, launching a National Plan for Transport and Roading this year.

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