Trustwater: Salt and water solution cleaning up for Irish firm

Clonmel company has an ingenious solution for the time and money lost on product changeovers


One of the main challenges facing the global beverage industry is the need to completely clean and sterilise production lines whenever there is a product changeover. Not only do the lines have to be cleaned of any residue from the previous product but all traces of odour and taste have to be removed as well and this can be particularly difficult in the case of pungent products.

The standard method used for this is known as clean-in-place (CIP) which cleans the interior surfaces of pipes, vessels, process equipment, filters and associated fittings, without the need for disassembly. Conventional CIP cleaning processes for such pungent flavoured products involve lengthy, hot chemical cleaning cycles often lasting more than five hours and which are very costly in terms of energy, water and chemical use. Indeed, typical beverage bottling plants can have up to 900 product changeovers in a year resulting in total downtime of thousands of hours for the plants.

An innovative Clonmel-based Irish company, Trustwater, has developed a solution to this issue which delivers savings on costs, energy, and time as well as reducing significantly the environmental impact of traditional chemical based processes.

“We have developed a technology that replaces the use of traditional chemicals in the food processing and beverage industries,” says Trustwater chief executive Edmond O’Reilly. “Our technology produces a powerful detergent and disinfectant and uses just salt and water to do it.”

This is achieved through a process known as electro-chemical activation (ECA) which is the generation of activated solutions by passing a dilute saltwater solution through an electrolytic membrane to produce two oppositely charged solutions with altered physical and chemical properties.

These are a positively charged anolyte solution, known as Ecasol which contains hypochlorous acid and is highly microbiocidal and a negatively charged catholyte solution with detergent properties known as Aversol, which consists predominantly of sodium hydroxide.

“What is produced is a very interesting combination of the four elements in the saltwater,” O’Reilly adds. “The two solutions are very effective at destroying microbes and they also act as a detergent. Very importantly they are non-toxic.”

This non-toxic property is exceptionally important. “Chlorine is toxic at four parts per million in water while our solution is non-toxic even up to 100 parts per million,” Trustwater chief technology officer Kevin Keane points out. “Our patented two-stream ECA technology is 100 times more effective than chlorine and is extremely effective even at low concentrations. It can replace a plant’s entire detergent and sanitiser needs. Aversol is a high pH alternative to traditional caustic and our activated mixed oxidant sanitiser, Ecasol, destroys all forms of microbes in very short contact times. As well as that, no technology more effectively removes stubborn biofilm.”

O’Reilly has been working on the development of the technology for almost ten years with major commercial breakthroughs coming in the last year or so following its testing and validation in a major US beverage plant. Those tests resulted in the system being granted USFDA approval for use in the food and beverage industry.

“The plant in the US where the system is in use has been able to increase production by 25% since installing it,” says Keane. “We have some of the earliest patents on ECA technology and we have been working on CIP applications for more than four years ago. We moved into the pungent flavour changeover area back in 2012.”

The company has gone on to develop what it claims is the most advanced ECA-type technology in existence today. The technology now allows near-perfect efficiency in terms of energy usage and salt conversion, making ECA now possible in applications where energy consumption, materials compatibility, salt conversion and residues were formerly a concern. The company quotes scientific studies showing the Trustwater system to be fully compatible with food and beverage processing equipment and to perform within equipment warranties making it the only ECA-type technology to achieve these standards.

With its cost, time, environmental, and health and safety advantages it is little wonder that the technology has achieved rapid international recognition and market acceptance. Trustwater won the Best Bottling Innovation award for its continuous filler disinfection application at the InterBev 2012 awards in Las Vegas. This followed a sustainability award from the International Dairy Federation in 2011 and the Manufacturing Exporter of the Year Award won at the 2010 Irish Exporters Awards.

The company’s most recent accolade was the Irish Times InterTradeIreland Innovation Award for 2013. “This award was very important to us as it gave our process very good exposure and this was a real boost to us,” says O’Reilly.

The technology has now been installed in food and beverage plants in more than 30 countries around the world as well as in several here in Ireland. “The system is in use in the Queally Group’s soup plant and it is also in use by Fyffes, ” he adds. “It is also in use internationally by Coca Cola. ”

The company now has offices in the US and Germany with full-time sales and applications support staff located globally and has established partnerships with many of the world’s leading suppliers and integrators. “We are committed to continuing to develop the technology and to growing our business to meet our customers’ needs internationally,” O’Reilly concludes.