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.

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. Karl H. Schoenbach and Frank S. Barnes: These two scientists, along with their colleagues, conducted early research on PEF in the 1970s and 1980s. They investigated the effects of high-voltage electric pulses on biological cells and developed theoretical models to explain the phenomenon.

  2. R. Paul Singh: Professor R. Paul Singh, a food engineer at the University of California, Davis, played a significant role in advancing PEF for food processing applications. He conducted extensive research on the effects of PEF on microorganisms and pioneered the application of PEF in the food industry.

  3. Jürgen Lenz: Jürgen Lenz, a German scientist, made significant contributions to the development and commercialization of PEF technology for food preservation. He founded a company called Elea Vertriebs- und Vermarktungsgesellschaft für Pulsed Electric Technologies mbH, which has been at the forefront of commercializing PEF systems for food processing.

  4. Wolfgang Frey and Dietrich Knorr: These researchers from the Technical University of Berlin in Germany have also made important contributions to the development and application of PEF technology for food processing and preservation. They conducted extensive studies on the effects of PEF on various food products and have been involved in advancing the understanding of the underlying mechanisms.

PEF technology has evolved over time, and numerous researchers and companies have contributed to its development and application in different fields.

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 the 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, oil, milk, soups, liquid eggs, yogurt, and wine.

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:

Read more about our CEPT® applications dryCEPT®, wineCEPT®, oliveCEPT®, juiceCEPT®, and juiceCEPT®+.

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