History of PEF - Pulsed Electric Fields

Pulsed electric fields have been applied for many years and in different areas. In this post, we answer the most frequently asked questions regarding PEF.

Who discovered PEF technology?

The discovery and development of Pulsed Electric Field (PEF) technology can be attributed to multiple key observations and advancements in the field of electrical engineering and biology.

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, scientists such as Luigi Galvani and Alessandro Volta conducted experiments on the effects of electricity on biological tissues. These studies laid the groundwork for understanding the interaction between electricity and living organisms.

The first scientist to suggest that PEF could break the cell membrane was Hodgkin in 1951. It should be noted that in the 70s another scientist, Zimmerman, developed a theoretical model for how the electrical pulses permeabilized the cells.

The first efforts in food processing were made by a self-taught engineer, Doevenspeck. He patented (1960) and built full-scale PEF machines for various food applications (without knowledge of how PEF worked), including working with the giant corporation Krupp, until the eighties, but without real commercial success.

Pulsed Electric Field (PEF) technology was developed and invented by several researchers and scientists over the years. Some notable contributors to the development of PEF are:

  1. Dr. Dietrich Knorr: Dr. Knorr, from the Technische Universität Berlin, is one of the leading researchers in the field of non-thermal food processing technologies, including PEF. He has published extensively on the subject and has been involved in numerous projects exploring the applications and efficacy of PEF in food preservation.

  2. Dr. Gustavo V. Barbosa-Cánovas A prominent figure in the field of food engineering, Dr. Barbosa-Cánovas from Washington State University has significantly contributed to the research on non-thermal food processing technologies, including PEF. His work encompasses various aspects of food engineering and processing, providing a comprehensive understanding of PEF applications.

In summary, PEF technology evolved through the combined efforts of multiple researchers and institutions over several decades. While Doevenspeck was a pioneering figure in the practical application of PEF, significant scientific and commercial advancements were made by researchers like Dr. Knorr, Dr. Jäger, Dr. Martínez-Monteagudo, Dr. Juliano, and Dr. Barbosa-Cánovas.

What is PEF?

PEF stands for Pulsed Electric Field. PEF treatment uses high-voltage pulses on liquids or semi-solids. Short electrical pulses aim to inactivate microbes without having any negative effect on valuable food attributes. PEF treatments are applied in the form of short pulses to avoid excessive heating or undesirable electrolytic reactions. The basic principle of the PEF technology is the application of short pulses of high electric fields with a duration of micro- to milliseconds. 

The practical use of electricity to process food is over one hundred years old. Food products, such as food oils, juices, dairy products, and more – are capable of transferring electricity because of the presence of ions, giving the product in question a certain degree of electrical conductivity. So, when an electrical field is applied, electrical current flows into the commodity and is transferred to each point in the liquid because of the charged molecules present. The first products on which PEF has been used, were fruit juices and smoothies.

PEF technology shows major advantages compared to traditional thermal processing methods. It reduces changes in the valuable properties of foods.

CEPT® can be described as a new and innovative type of PEF. It is a new and easier way to create, control, and apply pulses more efficiently. It holds several advantages compared to traditional pulsed electric field technology.

PEF (pulsed electric fields) creates pores in the cell membranes
The PEF treatment is applied and controlled using a generator.

Non Thermal Processing

One huge advantage of PEF is that there is no need for heating of the product in order to inactivate cells of microorganisms and enzymes. The organoleptic as well as nutrient properties are not harmed.

The design of the treatment chamber plays a significant role in PEF treatment. That is why OptiCept has invested in the development of a game-changing chamber.

PEF is a low energy process and helps to save valuable time in the production process.

PEF enables more substrate to be released from the commodity treated. For example olive oil can be released in higher volumes with a non-thermal effect.

PEF Application Areas

PEF is not only beneficial for food processing. It can be used within medical, environmental, and food technology.

PEF is applicable on plant, animal, and microbial cells.

Within food technology, PEF is for instance used on juices, olive oil, potato, wine and more.

Within the area of medicine, PEF is used for cancer treatment. There have been made attempts to apply pulsed electric fields for the cure of different medical illnesses and diseases such as depression.

Learn more about how PEF can be applied to fruit juices:

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