BENEO, a leading manufacturer of value-added ingredients, has built a state-of-the-art, energy-saving evaporation unit in the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate for production of the functional carbohydrate isomaltulose (Palatinose™). The pumps used must be able to handle an unusual range of densities, viscosities, temperatures and flow rates – a job for GEA Hilge HYGIA premium centrifugal pumps.

BENEO GmbH, a subsidiary of Südzucker AG, specializes in the development and production of plant-based functional ingredients for food, feed and pharma products that meet the highest quality and safety requirements. The company is considered a pioneer in the production of isomaltulose, a functional carbohydrate based on sugar beet. 

At its Offstein site in Germany, Südzucker AG traditionally produces sucrose from sugar beet, which BENEO uses as raw material for its products. Isomaltulose is also called alternative sugar because it is fully yet much more slowly digested than traditional sugar. Marketed as Palatinose™, isomaltulose meets consumer needs. It is low-glycemic and classified as non-cariogenic; 100-percent vegan, kosher, and halal. 

To enable its onward growth, BENEO invested in a multi-stage evaporation unit in 2020 with the aim of reducing primary steam consumption. The cutting-edge unit has been centrally integrated into production. With its redundant layout, it is operated fully automatically via the process control system.

Which pump is right for handling changing density and viscosity?

GEA Hilge HYGIA pumps on the intake side of the evaporation unit.
GEA Hilge HYGIA pumps on the intake side of the evaporation unit.

Processing raw isomaltulose is a challenging task. During the continuous production process, the initially low-viscosity product becomes increasingly viscous as water evaporates. Isomaltulose changes its density as it thickens as well as its viscosity with increasing temperature. So which pumps can cope with these challenges?

BENEO chose 20 GEA Hilge HYGIA pumps, a product with a decades-long track record of proven reliability and ease of maintenance. According to the customer’s project team, they were also the maintenance team’s preference.

More than half of all the pumps used at BENEO are from GEA Hilge as they are ideal for conveying the extremely demanding product. “BENEO first added our pumps to its standard catalog 20 years ago. Thanks to our many years of cooperation, we are very familiar with the production requirements,” says Olaf Reiss, the account manager at GEA Hilge in charge of that client.

Handling raw isomaltulose gently and moving DM water quickly – using the same pump type

The medium thickens during the process, changing its viscosity and temperature – a challenge easily met by the GEA Hilge pumps used
The medium thickens during the process, changing its viscosity and temperature – a challenge easily met by the GEA Hilge pumps used

The pumps used have to perform a number of tasks during the production process and must satisfy a wide range of requirements because they are to transport both the product and the demineralized (DM) water used for rinsing. On the one hand, they have to handle a highly viscous product gently and efficiently. By contrast, during the CIP process, they have to transport water and a water/product mixture at high speed, flushing the system through until it is empty. And that 365 days a year.

Explaining the challenge, Olaf Reiss says that any pump can run much faster under no-load conditions. However, with the load increasing as the medium thickens, this becomes more difficult. Nevertheless, reliable transport must be ensured, especially in continuous production. That means the pumps used should be capable of handling a very wide spectrum.

Plant operators are often forced to use two different types of pumps for the two handling tasks or to create a bypass. For example, the GEA Hilge NOVALOBE stainless steel rotary lobe pump can serve as a product feed pump for viscous media, while a classic centrifugal pump can be used as a CIP pump. Thanks to the many years of expertise of GEA’s process engineers, BENEO was able to equip the new unit with GEA Hilge HYGIA pumps throughout. The consistent use of intelligent frequency converters made an important contribution here. Every second, the pumps receive a new setpoint, which depends on the density of the product and changes dramatically when switching to DM water during cleaning operations after the product is discharged.

Wide load spectrum possible

“BENEO’s specifications for the pumps make it much more difficult to determine the optimum design. The right balance needs to be achieved and each pump has to be adapted individually to its location,” Reiss emphasizes. “During the RfP process, the customer also stipulated that the pumps should be as similar as possible in terms of their dimensions, motor size and impeller. This facilitates maintenance work and the inventory of spare parts.

As the new energy-efficient evaporation unit is tailored precisely to the production step and replaces older units, the isomaltulose manufacturer designed it to handle a wide load spectrum. While cleaning is performed in some of the process steps, the evaporation unit can continue operating with low loads and get back up to speed within a very short space of time. The pumps’ capacity reserves mean that production volumes can be ramped up quickly and easily in response to rising demand.

Good planning prevents failures

GEA Hilge HYGIA Adapta on combi foot for the effective residue-free cleaning of production areas
GEA Hilge HYGIA Adapta on combi foot for the effective residue-free cleaning of production areas

Ideally, evaporation units run 24/7. Each cleaning operation takes time, reduces productivity and requires large amounts of DM water. Like all system components, HYGIA pumps need regular preventive maintenance. In the event of a malfunction, the redundant pump can take over and the process can continue without interruption. “The pumps perform a very important function. If we can switch to the second pump within a few minutes, the reliability of the plant is guaranteed. We rarely experience pump failures,” says the team at BENEO.

Ease of maintenance in day-to-day operations

In day-to-day plant operations, it is crucial that maintenance is made easy. That is why the maintenance team opted for the GEA Hilge HYGIA Adapta version with the bearing bracket and coupling installed horizontally. This design makes it much easier to replace the mechanical seal or coupling. The broad performance spectrum yields advantages in terms of spare parts inventory because just a handful of pump sizes are used. This simplifies warehousing, making it much leaner and thus also more cost-effective.

BENEO attached great importance to installing the pumps in the best possible way despite the limited space available. The pumps had to be as free-standing as possible to provide easy access for maintenance. Any pump benefits from a generous and straight feed line on the intake side, preferably with a downward gradient for low-point drainage to ensure efficient cleaning. Cavitation must also be considered during installation. “Given the current energy prices and above all in view of our customers’ sustainability ambitions, closed valves on the discharge side are no longer a contemporary option,” explains Reiss. “That’s why our customer here in Offstein uses speed control for the energy-efficient operation of all its HYGIA pumps.”

Thanks to their design, GEA Hilge premium centrifugal pumps also deliver benefits in terms of cleanability. The production areas are cleaned with hot water several times a week. Where other pumps are equipped with large steel substructures and anchored to the floor, GEA Hilge pumps stand very firmly on a graceful combi foot, which greatly simplifies cleaning operations at BENEO.

Energy-efficient installation – ease of accessibility – maintenance-friendly mounting
Energy-efficient installation – ease of accessibility – maintenance-friendly mounting