Spray drying is a method of producing a dry powder from a liquid or slurry by rapidly drying with a hot gas. This is the preferred method of drying of many thermally-sensitive materials such as foods and pharmaceuticals. A consistent particle size distribution is a reason for spray drying some industrial products such as catalysts. Air is the heated drying media; however, if the liquid is a flammable solvent such as ethanol or the product is oxygen-sensitive then nitrogen is used.
All spray dryers use some type of atomizer or spray nozzle to disperse the liquid or slurry into a controlled drop size spray. The most common of these are rotary nozzles and single-fluid pressure swirl nozzles. Alternatively, for some applications two-fluid or ultrasonic nozzle are used. Depending on the process needs drop sizes from 10 to 500 micrometres can be achieved with the appropriate choices. The most common applications are in the 100 to 200 micrometre diameter range. The dry powder is often free-flowing.
The hot drying gas can be passed as a co-current or counter-current flow to the atomiser direction. The co-current flow enables the particles to have a lower residence time within the system and the particle separator (typically a cyclone device) operates more efficiently. The counter-current flow method enables a greater residence time of the particles in the chamber and usually is paired with a fluidised bed system.
Alternatives to spray dryers are:
A spray dryer is a device used in spray drying. It takes a liquid stream and separates the solute or suspension as a solid and the solvent into a vapor. The solid is usually collected in a drum or cyclone. The liquid input stream is sprayed through a nozzle into a hot vapor stream and vaporised. Solids form as moisture quickly leaves the droplets. A nozzle is usually used to make the droplets as small as possible, maximising heat transfer and the rate of water vaporisation. Droplet sizes can range from 20 to 180 μm depending on the nozzle.
Spray dryers can dry a product very quickly compared to other methods of drying. They also turn a solution, or slurry into a dried powder in a single step, which can be advantageous for profit maximization and process simplification.
Spray drying often is used as an encapsulation technique by the food and other industries. A substance to be encapsulated (the load) and an amphipathic carrier (usually some sort of modified starch) are homogenized as a suspension in water (the slurry). The slurry is then fed into a spray drier, usually a tower heated to temperatures well over the boiling point of water.
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