Applications of freeze drying
Freeze-drying causes less damage to the substance than other dehydration methods using higher temperatures. Nutrient factors that are sensitive to heat are lost less in the process as compared to the processes incorporating heat treatment for drying purposes.Freeze-drying does not usually cause shrinkage or toughening of the material being dried. In addition, flavours, smells, and nutritional content generally remain unchanged, making the process popular for preserving food. However, water is not the only chemical capable of sublimation, and the loss of other volatile compounds such as acetic acid (vinegar) and alcohols can yield undesirable results.
Freeze-dried products can be rehydrated (reconstituted) much more quickly and easily because the process leaves microscopic pores. The pores are created by the ice crystals that sublimate, leaving gaps or pores in their place. This is especially important when it comes to pharmaceutical uses. Freeze-drying can also be used to increase the shelf life of some pharmaceuticals for many years.
Pharmaceuticals and biotechnology
Lyophilized 5% w/v sucrose cake in a pharmaceutical glass vial
Pharmaceutical companies often use freeze-drying to increase the shelf life of the products, such as live virus vaccines, biologics and other injectables. By removing the water from the material and sealing the material in a glass vial, the material can be easily stored, shipped, and later reconstituted to its original form for injection. Another example from the pharmaceutical industry is the use of freeze drying to produce tablets or wafers, the advantage of which is less excipient as well as a rapidly absorbed and easily administered dosage form.
Freeze-dried pharmaceutical products are produced as lyophilized powders for reconstitution in vials and more recently in prefilled syringes for self-administration by a patient.
Examples of lyophilized biological products include many vaccines such as live measles virus vaccine, typhoid vaccine, and meningococcal polysaccharide vaccine groups A and C combined. Other freeze-dried biological products include antihemophilic factor VIII, interferon alfa, anti-blood clot medicine streptokinase, and wasp venom allergenic extract.
Many bio-pharmaceutical products based on therapeutic proteins such as monoclonal antibodies require lyophilization for stability. Examples of lyophilized biopharmaceuticals include blockbuster drugs such as etanercept (Enbrel by Amgen), infliximab (Remicade by Janssen Biotech), rituximab, and trastuzumab (Herceptin by Genentech).
Freeze-drying is also used in manufacturing of raw materials for pharmaceutical products. Active Pharmaceutical Product Ingredients (APIs) are lyophilized to achieve chemical stability under room temperature storage. Bulk lyophilization of APIs is typically conducted using trays instead of glass vials.
Cell extracts that support cell-free biotechnology applications such as point-of-care diagnostics and biomanufacturing are also freeze-dried to improve stability under room temperature storage.
Dry powders of probiotics are often produced by bulk freeze-drying of live microorganisms such as lactic acid bacteria and bifidobacteria.
Freeze drying of food
The primary purpose of freeze drying within the food industry is to extend the shelf-life of the food while maintaining the quality.Freeze-drying is known to result in the highest quality of foods amongst all drying techniques because structural integrity is maintained along with preservation of flavors. Because freeze drying is expensive, it is used mainly with high-value products.Examples of high-value freeze-dried products are seasonal fruits and vegetables because of their limited availability, coffee; and foods used for military rations, astronauts/cosmonauts, and/or hikers.
NASA and military rations
Because of its light weight per volume of reconstituted food, freeze-dried products are popular and convenient for hikers, as military rations, or astronaut meals.A greater amount of dried food can be carried compared to the same weight of wet food. In replacement of wet food, freeze dried food can easily be rehydrated with water if desired and shelf-life of the dried product is longer than fresh/wet product making it ideal for long trips taken by hikers, military personnel, or astronauts. The development of freeze drying increased meal and snack variety to include items like shrimp cocktail, chicken and vegetables, butterscotch pudding, and apple sauce.
Coffee contains flavor and aroma qualities that are created due to the Maillard reaction during roasting and can be preserved with freeze-drying.Compared to other drying methods like room temperature drying, hot-air drying, and solar drying, Robusta coffee beans that were freeze-dried contained higher amounts of essential amino acids like leucine, lysine, and phenylalanine. Also, few non-essential amino acids that significantly contributed to taste were preserved.
With conventional dehydration, berries can degrade in quality as their structure is very delicate and contains high levels of moisture. Strawberries were found to have the highest quality when freeze dried; retaining color, flavour, and ability to be re-hydrated.
Freeze-drying is used extensively to preserve insects for the purposes of consumption. Whole freeze-dried insects are sold as exotic pet food, bird feed, fish bait, and increasingly for human consumption. Powdered freeze-dried insects are used as a protein base in animal feeds, and in some markets, as a nutritional supplement for human use. Farmed insects are generally used for all of the aforementioned purposes versus harvesting wild insects, except in the case of grasshoppers which are often harvested out of field crops.
In bioseparations, freeze-drying can be used also as a late-stage purification procedure, because it can effectively remove solvents. Furthermore, it is capable of concentrating substances with low molecular weights that are too small to be removed by a filtration membrane. Freeze-drying is a relatively expensive process. The equipment is about three times as expensive as the equipment used for other separation processes, and the high energy demands lead to high energy costs. Furthermore, freeze-drying also has a long process time, because the addition of too much heat to the material can cause melting or structural deformations. Therefore, freeze-drying is often reserved for materials that are heat-sensitive, such as proteins, enzymes, microorganisms, and blood plasma. The low operating temperature of the process leads to minimal damage of these heat-sensitive products.
In nanotechnology, freeze-drying is used for nanotube purification to avoid aggregation due to capillary forces during regular thermal vaporization drying.
Freeze-drying is among the methods used to preserve animals in the field of taxidermy. When animals are preserved in this manner they are called “freeze-dried taxidermy” or “freeze-dried mounts”. Freeze-drying is commonly used to preserve crustaceans, fish, amphibians, reptiles, insects, and smaller mammals. Freeze-drying is also used as a means to memorialize pets after death. Rather than opting for a traditional skin mount when choosing to preserve their pet via taxidermy, many owners opt for freeze-drying because it is less invasive upon the pet’s body.
Organizations such as the Document Conservation Laboratory at the United States National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) have done studies on freeze-drying as a recovery method of water-damaged books and documents.
While recovery is possible, restoration quality depends on the material of the documents. If a document is made of a variety of materials, which have different absorption properties, expansion will occur at a non-uniform rate, which could lead to deformations. Water can also cause mold to grow or make inks bleed. In these cases, freeze-drying may not be an effective restoration method.
In bacteriology freeze-drying is used to conserve special strains.
Advanced ceramics processes sometimes use freeze-drying to create a formable powder from a sprayed slurry mist. Freeze-drying creates softer particles with a more homogeneous chemical composition than traditional hot spray drying, but it is also more expensive.
A new form of burial which previously freeze-dries the body with liquid nitrogen has been developed by the Swedish company Promessa Organic AB, which puts it forward as an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional casket and cremation burials.