Satake's vision

by Emily Wilson
Share This:

Robert S. Satake’s philanthropic vision to set up a post-graduate teaching and research center to benefit the industries involved in both food and non-food uses of grain is today a successful reality.

The Satake Centre for Grain Process Engineering was founded in May 1994 at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST) in the United Kingdom. Its benefactor, the late chairman and chief executive officer of Satake Corp., Hiroshima, Japan, established the Satake Centre with a donation of U.S.$1.5 million to cover the center’s operation the first five years.

Before his death last November, Satake donated another $U.S.750,000 to support existing activities and to expand the center’s research efforts. Another U.S.$1.8 million has been donated from the milling industry, as well as European Union and U.K. government sources.

Toshiko Satake, Satake’s widow and now chairwoman of Satake Corp., recently confirmed the company’s continued support of the Satake Centre. "I am delighted to have an ongoing strong connection with the Satake Centre," she said.

The Satake Center is housed within the Department of Chemical Engineering at UMIST. The department is rated among the top three in teaching and research, along with Cambridge and Imperial College in London, out of more than 100 universities in the U.K. UMIST is the oldest of the three universities (founded in 1824) and is also the smallest, with 6,000 students.

Currently, 16 students are enrolled at the Satake Centre, all registered for higher degrees.

A Master of Science degree in cereals processing technology can be studied on a full-time or part-time basis. The program covers the full scope of grain processing, from the underlying science to engineering and management. Courses are taught in grain economics, cereal science, process engineering and management.

Two post-graduate students who recently finished their studies at the Satake Centre are already applying their knowledge in the milling industry. Philip Bunn of the U.K. was sponsored by RHM Technology to study wheat breakage during first break. He was recently appointed mill manager for W II Marriage & Sons Ltd., a flour milling company in Chelmsford, U.K.

"I will be most interested to see how the results from my engineering doctorate apply in a practical day-to-day milling context," Bunn said. "During my time at the Centre, I had the possibility to visit many mills."

Gavin Owens was sponsored by Odlums, a flour milling group based in Dublin, Ireland. His thesis covered the optimization and recycle grinding applied to the flour milling process.

Owens is now a consultant to the milling industry. "I am building up my consultancy practice based on research and knowledge gained from my time at the Centre, which is already bringing dividends," he said.

Grant Campbell, a staff food technologist at the Satake Centre, said, "Clearly, we are delighted that these two of our doctoral graduates have found suitable positions in the milling industry where they can transfer some of the ideas we have been developing into practical use."

The Satake Centre staff also includes Colin Webb, director of the Satake Centre and head of UMIST’s Chemical Engineering Department; Seve Pandiella, a chemical engineer; as well as three research officers, two post-doctoral research associates, a technician, and a secretary.

Facilities at the Satake Centre comprise a fully equipped food-grade teaching laboratory, covering grain and flour testing as well as a bakery; a research laboratory with a pilot scale processing plant, Satake rollermill and laboratory purifier; as well as a library, lecture facilities and administrative offices.

The university’s Department of Chemical Engineering recently was awarded U.S.$10 million to refurbish the pilot plant, which also will be used by the Satake Centre. One-third of the money is earmarked for state-of-the-art equipment for materials characterization and process monitoring.

Webb said the Satake Centre curriculum was complementary to the milling schools around the world, and he keeps in regular contact with these schools.

"Our center is unique in focusing particularly on fundamental research into process engineering for the future from renewable sources — grain," he said. "This work, thanks to Satake Corp. and other funding, is now increasing exponentially. It is based on the in-house mathematical and analytical skills of chemical engineering not harnessed before in the grain industries."

Chemical engineers have contributed to the non-food process industries for over 100 years, yet until now have had relatively little involvement in the food sector, Webb said.

RESEARCH EFFORTS. Although post-graduate cereal processing studies, continuing professional development courses and consultancy and testing services are offered, the Satake Centre’s main thrust is in researching food and non-food applications of grain processing. This research is organized around three main themes: primary processing, secondary processing, and novel uses.

Primary processing research — aimed at modeling, simulation and optimization of the flour milling process and opportunities for novel process configurations — is under the direction of Jintang Li, a mechanical engineering graduate of the Zheng Zhou Grain College in China. Li also studied heat and mass transfer during pneumatic conveying at Glasgow (U.K.) Caledonian University.

"I always wanted to be able to concentrate on research in the area of grain processing, due to my related experience in China," Li said.

Current research in primary processing is directed at the transformation of the classical gradual reduction flow of the flour mill into an up-to-date, scientific process. Research is targeted at a full mathematical description of individual and collective particle breakage throughout the mill diagram. This encompasses predictions based on research of the performance of the rollermill from input to output using the pilot mill and the Satake research rollermill.

Particle size breakage matrices and equations have been constructed and validated, aided by high-speed video imaging. It is anticipated that such experimental work will become a powerful tool for millers in deciding mill settings for different grists as well as for quality control.

Further research is focused on lowering the number of steps in a flour mill by means of a combination of streams or by selective recycling. Early results on commercial scale plants are encouraging, Webb said, leading to yield increases and energy savings.

Secondary processing research is examining such fields as breadmaking, brewing, colorants and yeasts. Zoe Mousia, a chemical engineering graduate from the Technical University, Athens, Greece, is the secondary processing research officer.

Mousia completed her doctorate at Nottingham University, U.K., looking at phase behavior of heterogeneous biopolymer mixtures, highly relevant to understand the creation and texture in aerated cereal-based food systems, such as bread, cakes and extruded products.

"I am in my element developing my own research and enjoying the challenge," Dr. Mousia said.

Some of the research projects in this area include the effect of energy, aeration and mixer design on bread dough mixing, the effect of single-stage brewing on product quality, production of food colorants by fermentation of whole wheat flour and immobilization of brewery yeasts for enhanced stability. Other investigations are taking place in food foams and wheat starch extraction.

Campbell, the Centre’s staff food technologist, recently participated in a U.K.-funded project to study the creation and control of bubbles in bread.

"This will allow us, for the first time, to relate flour gluten quality to bread quality in a complete, mechanistic sense, and to give sound guidelines to bakers for manipulating their dough formations and processes to achieve particular baked loaf structures and textures based on a thorough understanding of bubble behavior in the dough," he said.

Ruo Hang Wang is the research officer for novel uses of cereals. A fermentation engineer, Wang completed his doctorate at UMIST on the production of a generic fermentation medium for cereals used with a wide range of non-food products.

"An important part of my work is to apply for research funding and to attract suitable post-doctorate personnel to move such projects forward," he said.

Research into novel uses has involved continuous production of a generic fermentation medium from cereal grains, production of pectinases from raw cereal materials, production of cereal-based fermented foods with probiotic properties and production of a complete fermentation medium by the hydrolysis of wheat flour.

Over 25 research projects in all three areas have been completed to date.

Networking links have been established with such institutions as the Canadian Grain Commission, Australia’s Bread Research Institute, the TNO in the Netherlands, Campden & Chorleywood Food Research Association as well as the universities of Reading and Nottingham in the U.K., the Federal Institute for Cereals Research in Germany, the University of Oviedo in Spain, ENSMIC in France, the Swiss Milling School, Kobe and Toyko universities in Japan, and, in the United States, North Dakota State University, the Northern Crops Institute, Kansas State University, the American Institute of Baking, and the American Association of Cereal Chemists.

The Satake Centre also can be used to conduct confidential industrial research assignments.

"The future overall is very bright for the rapidly growing and unmatched contribution of the Centre to understanding and improving cereal-based processes," said Webb. "Our increasing and prized international reputation has progressed at a faster rate than anticipated. Clearly, this is due to the generous funding coupled with our global contacts and activities at the Centre."