Students & Graduates Blog

Playing with proteins in the Danish Manhattan

Greetings from Arla Foods Ingredients, Nr. Vium; a dairy site producing ingredients for Infants, children, sports people, and elderly people. It is an enormous factory with milk silos, chimneys and spray drying towers pointing majestically towards the sky, like a Danish Manhattan.

Published: July 15, 2016 by Christina Greany Sørensen 

Yesterday morning, as I was biking to work, a rainbow was pointing straight into the tallest tower of the site. This factory, I thought, is actually the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It has managed to make money out of what was once waste-products of cheese-making. Now they are not only making money, they are making a lot of money on whey** products due to their expertise in chemical engineering.

Where to find Nr. Vium on a map is not exactly common knowledge. If you know Denmark, you might know Herning, a city an hour away from Aarhus. Going 30 km west of Herning you find an even smaller city called Videbæk. Finally, 8 km outside of Videbæk you bump into the village of Nr. Vium. It is hard to imagine, that out here, genuinely in the middle of nowhere, you can find an innovation center doing hardcore scientific R&D and employing some of the brightest minds I have met. Once inside, you feel an intense atmosphere of passion for the work being done, and every day, you get to talk to a new inspired person doing a different interesting project.

My name is Christina, and I am currently studying my masters in Dairy Engineering at the University of Copenhagen. My, perhaps unusual, background in Arla’s Summer Internship Programme is also the reason for my, perhaps unusual, location. Although it might sound like I’ve been tucked away on the country side for the whole summer, this is indeed a place I have been wishing to go to for a long time (+ I get to spend the weekends with the other Summer Interns in Aarhus). As I see it, I am getting the best of the two worlds.

 

Right now, I am almost half-way through my internship, and time has literally flown away. The first week I got my project, which is to take the first baby steps of making a new and cheaper way of producing protein hydrolysate*** for sports people. This basically means that I have had quite free hands in terms of structuring the project. It also means that I have had to utilize all the project management tools I could think of, in order for me not to confuse myself. It is a big challenge, but I’m super excited to be trusted with this task.

The fact that I am working with a project of interest for my department means that people are genuinely interested in what I do, and make time to discuss my findings and future trials. My first big realization was that it is a work of art (… and science), getting these hydrolysates to taste well. Although, people here are more than happy to answer any questions, I might have about their work, they are not really that keen on tasting samples from my trials. – At least not until I am a bit further in the process. Nevertheless, I have to taste everything I produce, since the taste, as you might guess, is OK important when developing a food product.

Though I will not get to see a finished product by the end of my internship, I get to see what challenges there are in developing an actual commercial product. I quickly realized how much work it takes to test a simple change in a process or product. As these products are quite complicated to produce, there are so many possible changes to make. You really need to be smart when selecting the changes, you want to test, and make some simple setups that will give you clear results. Furthermore, there is such a big difference when doing something in Lab-scale and a bigger scale, that it is impossible to know what the product will be like when you start using the real equipment. I am truly excited about the outcome of my project, and even though my effort might not move any mountains, I am learning so much from all of the R&D-people, the other interns and from managing this whole project. This summer in Arla is without a doubt a super rewarding experience, and I wouldn’t change it for lying on the beach on a tropical island.

*Spray drying towers: Equipment in which liquid solutions are sprayed out and dried into a powder.

**Whey: The lactose and protein rich leftover from cheese making.

***Protein hydrolysate: Protein powder where the proteins have been broken down so that it is faster absorbed in the body than normal protein powder.

Christina Greany Sørensen

Position: Summer Intern
Periode: June-August 2016
Location: Denmark
Department: Arla Foods Ingredients R&D, Nr. Vium, Denmark