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Novel technology ensures safety of South America’s tea

Heat pipe technology helps percolate prospects for exports by tackling toxicity of maté tea

The need

Brazil’s best-loved beverage has been linked to mouth, throat, kidney and bladder cancers. It is a hard fact to swallow in a country where people in every park and square sit sipping it. Made from the dried, chopped, ground leaves of rainforest holly tree, maté, like many foods and drinks, contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

The traditional wood smoke drying process, which puts wood smoke in direct contact with the tea, contaminates it with high levels of cancer-causing PAHs. There was no conventionally available equipment capable of achieving this and hence an innovative solution was required.

The solution

Experts in heat exchangers and thermal systems at Brunel University London have invented a novel way to dry maté tea leaves. They use clean hot air, made by burning any biofuels, and a heat-pipe-based heat exchanger to stop PAHs forming and make maté safe to drink.

Britain and Brazil have poured £3,4m into Brunel’s Erva Mate Drying Project to perfect the new heat-pipe-based drying process and percolate prospects for export. By tackling toxicity and enabling any biofuel to be used, Brunel’s fixes will cut out PAHs in maté tea and recycle waste into fuel, reducing both costs and carbon footprint.

The outcome

  • A new manufacturing line using novel heat pipe technology
  • The new line uses less energy and produces less waste than the old process as well as producing tea with reduced PAHs
  • Ervateira expanded production by 25% and safeguarded 30 jobs, whilst delivering health benefits for an estimated 1,4m consumers of their mate tea
  • The UK company Econotherm developed this innovation with a new product line, subsequently selling a dozen mate manufacturing units worth £12m across 4 South American countries
  • Econotherm's parent company Spirax Sarco benefitted from £1,8m of new business
  • The research has led to 18 new jobs and secured 10 jobs across these 2 companies, as well as boosting exports
  • SENAI Innovation Institute for Biomass has developed additional technical capabilities to support innovation that has helped strengthen the innovation infrastructure in Brazil
The project is in response to a need highlighted by a major maté tea beverage producer in Brazil with a vision of obtaining a safer, cleaner, efficient and cost-effective tea leaves drying system. Brunel’s standing in the heat-pipe-based heat exchangers design and optimisation has again brought to market new innovation that will make a very popular drink in South America safe.

Prof Hussam Jouhara

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Case study last modified 14/10/2022

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