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The technology behind disruption of fat globules

Fig. 6.3.0

Homogenization has become a standard industrial process, universally practised as a

means of stabilizing the fat emulsion against gravity separation. Gaulin, who invented the
process in 1899, described it in French as “fixer la composition des liquides”.
Homogenization primarily causes disruption of fat globules into much smaller ones
(Figure 6.3.1). Consequently, it diminishes creaming and may also diminish the tendency
of globules to clump or coalesce. Essentially, all homogenized milk is produced by
mechanical means. Milk is forced through a small passage at high velocity.
The disintegration of the original fat globules is achieved by a combination of contributing
factors such as turbulence and cavitation. The homogenization reduces fat globule size
from an average of 3.5 µm in diameter to below 1 µm. This is accompanied by a four- to
six-fold increase in the fat/plasma interfacial surface area. The newly created fat globules
are no longer completely covered with the original membrane material. Instead, they are
surfaced with a mixture of proteins adsorbed from the plasma phase.

(Some researchers studied a fat-protein complex produced by the homogenization of

milk. They showed that casein was the protein half of the complex and that it was
probably associated with the fat fraction through polar bonding forces. They postulated
further that the casein micelle was activated at the moment it passed through the valve
of the homogenizer, predisposing it to interaction with the lipid phase)
Fig. 6.3.1

Homogenization causes disruption of fat globules into much smaller ones.

Process requirements

The physical state and concentration of the fat phase at the time of homogenization
contribute materially to the size and dispersion of the ensuing fat globules.
Homogenization of cold milk, in which the fat is essentially solidified, is virtually
ineffective. Processing at temperatures conducive to the partial solidification of milk fat
(i.e. below 40 °C) results in incomplete dispersion of the fat phase.
Products of high fat content are more difficult to homogenize and also more likely to
show evidence of fat clumping, because the concentration of serum proteins is low in
relation to the fat content. Usually, cream with higher fat content than 20 % cannot be
homogenized at high pressure, because clusters are formed as a result of lack of
membrane material (casein). Increasing the homogenization temperature decreases the
viscosity of milk and improves the transport of membrane material to the fat globules.
Homogenization temperatures normally applied are 55 – 80 °C, and homogenization
pressure is between 10 and 25 MPa (100 – 250 bar), depending on the product.

Flow characteristics

When the liquid passes the narrow gap, the flow velocity increases (Figure 6.3.2). The
speed will increase until the static pressure is so low that the liquid starts to boil. The
maximum speed depends mainly on the inlet (homogenization) pressure. When the liquid
leaves the gap, the speed decreases and the pressure increases again. The liquid stops
boiling and the steam bubbles implode.

Fig. 6.3.2
At homogenization, the milk is forced through a narrow gap where the fat globules are

Homogenization theories

Many theories of the mechanism of high pressure homogenization have been presented
over the years. For a low-viscous oil-in-water dispersion like milk, where most of the
droplets are in the order of one µm (10–6 m) in diameter, two theories have survived.
Together, they give a good explanation of the influence of different parameters on the
homogenizing effect.
The theory of globule disruption by turbulent eddies (“micro whirls”) is based on the fact
that a liquid jet is formed at the outlet of the gap. As the jet is broken up many small
eddies are created. Higher pressure equals higher jet velocity that gives smaller eddies
and more energy rich eddies. If an eddy hits an oil droplet of about the same size, the
droplet will be deformed and finally break up. This theory predicts how the homogenizing
effect varies with the homogenizing pressure. This relation has been shown in many
The cavitation theory, on the other hand, claims that the shock waves created when the
steam bubbles implode disrupt the fat droplets. According to this theory, homogenization
takes place when the liquid is leaving the gap, so the back pressure which is important to
control the cavitation is important to homogenization. This has also been shown in
practice. However, it is possible to homogenize without cavitation, but it is less efficient.

Single-stage and two-stage homogenization

Homogenizers may be equipped with one homogenizing device or two connected in

series, hence the names single-stage homogenization and two-stage homogenization.
The two-stage system is illustrated in Figure 6.3.5.
In both single-stage homogenization and two-stage homogenization, the whole
homogenization pressure (P1) is used over the first device. In single-stage
homogenization, the back pressure (P2) is created by the process. In two-stage
homogenization the back pressure (P2) is created by the second stage. In this case the
back pressure can be chosen to achieve optimal homogenization efficiency. Using
modern devices, the best results are obtained when the relation P2/P1 is about 0.2. The
second stage also reduces noise and vibrations in the outlet pipe.
Single-stage homogenization may be used for homogenization of products with high fat
content demanding a high viscosity (certain cluster formation).
Two-stage homogenization is used primarily to reach optimal homogenization results and
to break up fat clusters in products with a high fat content. The formation and break-up
of clusters in the second stage is illustrated in Figure 6.3.3.
Fig. 6.3.3

Disruption of fat globules in first and second stages of homogenization.

1. After first stage

2. After second stage

Effect of homogenization

The effect of homogenization on the physical structure of milk has many advantages:

 Smaller fat globules leading to less cream-line formation

 Whiter and more appetizing colour
 Reduced sensitivity to fat oxidation
 More full-bodied flavour, and better mouthfeel
 Better stability of cultured milk products

However, homogenization also has certain disadvantages:

 Somewhat increased sensitivity to light – sunlight and fluorescent tubes – can

result in “sunlight flavour” (see also Chapter 8, Pasteurized milk products).
 The milk might be less suitable for production of semi-hard or hard cheeses
because the coagulum will be too soft and difficult to dewater.

The homogenizer

A high-pressure homogenizer is a pump with a homogenization device. A homogenizer is

generally needed when high-efficiency homogenization is required.
The product enters the pump block and is pressurized by the piston pump. The pressure
that is achieved is determined by the back-pressure given by the distance between the
forcer and seat in the homogenization device. This pressure P1 (Figure 6.3.8) is always
designated the homogenization pressure. P2 is the back-pressure to the first stage.

The high-pressure pump

In Figure 6.3.4, the piston pump is driven by a powerful electric motor (1), via belts (2)
and pulleys through a gearbox (3) to the crankshaft (10) and connecting-rod transmission,
which converts the rotary motion of the motor to the reciprocating motion of the pump
pistons (9).
A piston pump is a positive pump and its capacity can only be adjusted by changing the
speed of the motor or changing the size of the pulleys. To handle higher pressures,
pistons with smaller diameter are installed. This will reduce the maximum capacity, as
each machine size has a maximum crankshaft speed. A larger machine has a longer stroke
length and/or more pistons. In many cases these pistons also have a larger diameter.
A high-pressure pump has normally three to five pistons (9), running in cylinders in a high-
pressure block (8). They are made of highly resistant materials. The machine is fitted with
double piston-seals. Water is supplied to the space between the seals to lubricate the
pistons. A mixture of hot condensate and steam can also be supplied to prevent
reinfection when the homogenizer is placed downstream in aseptic processes.

A piston pump will always generate a pulsating flow. The acceleration and deceleration
of the liquid will create a pulsating pressure in the suction pipe. To avoid cavitation in the
pump, there is always a damper on the suction pipe to reduce the pulsation. On the outlet
side, the pulsation might create vibrations and noise, why the outlet pipe is also equipped
with a damper.
As it is a positive pump, a piston pump should not operate in a series of other positive
pumps, unless there is a bypass – otherwise the result can be extreme pressure variations
and damaged equipment. If the flow can be stopped downstream of a high-pressure
pump, a safety device must be installed that opens before the pipe bursts.

The homogenizer is a large high-pressure pump with a homogenizing device.

1. Crankcase
2. Pistons
3. Damper
4. Pump block
5. Homogenization device, first stage
6. Homogenization device, second stage
7. Main drive motor
8. V-belt transmission
9. Hydraulic pressure setting system
The homogenization device


The components of a two-stage homogenization device.

Figure 6.3.5 shows the homogenization and hydraulic system. The piston pump boosts
the pressure of the milk from about 300 kPa (3 bar) at the inlet to a homogenization
pressure of 10 – 25 MPa (100 – 250 bar), depending on the product. The pressure to the
first stage before the device (the homogenization pressure) is automatically kept
constant. The oil pressure on the hydraulic piston and the homogenization pressure on
the forcer balance each other. The hydraulic unit can supply both first and second stage
with an individually set pressure. The homogenization pressure is set by adjusting the oil
pressure. Actual homogenization pressure can be read on a pressure gauge.

Homogenization always takes place in the first stage. The second stage basically serves
two purposes:

 Supplying a constant and controlled back-pressure to the first stage, giving best
possible conditions for homogenization
 Breaking up clusters formed directly after homogenization as shown in Figure

The parts in the homogenization device are precision-ground. Its seat is at an angle that
makes the product accelerate in a controlled way, thereby reducing the rapid wear and
tear that would otherwise occur.
Milk is supplied at high pressure to the space between the seat and forcer. The distance
between the seat and the forcer is approximately 0.1 mm or 100 times the size of the fat
globules in homogenized milk. The velocity of the liquid is normally 100 – 400 m/s in the
narrow annular gap. The higher the homogenization pressure, the higher the speed.
Homogenization takes 10 – 15 microseconds. During this time, all the pressure energy
delivered by the piston pump is converted into kinetic energy. Part of this energy is
converted back to pressure again after the device. The other part is released as heat;
every 40 bar in pressure drop over the device gives a temperature rise of 1 °C. Less than
1 % of the energy is utilized for homogenization, but nevertheless, high-pressure
homogenization is the most efficient method available.

Note that the homogenization pressure is the pressure before the first stage, not the
pressure drop.

Homogenization efficiency

The purpose of homogenization varies with the application. Consequently the methods
of measuring efficiency also vary.

According to Stokes’ Law, the rising velocity of a particle is given by:

vg = velocity
g = force of gravity
p = particle size
ρhp = density of the liquid
ρlp = density of the particle
t = viscosity

in the formula:

Formula 6.3.1

It can be seen that reducing the particle size is an efficient way of reducing the rising
velocity. Therefore, reducing the size of fat globules in milk reduces the creaming rate.

Analytical methods

Analytical methods for determining homogenization efficiency can be divided into two

Studies of creaming rate

The straight forward way of determining the creaming rate is to take a package, store it
at the recommended storage temperature until the last day of consumption, open it and
check if the cream layer is acceptable or not.
The USPH method is based on this. A sample of, say, 1 000 ml is stored for 48 hours, after
which the fat content of the top 100 ml is determined, as well as the fat content of the
rest. Homogenization is reckoned to be sufficient if 0.9 times the top fat content is less
than the bottom fat content.
The NIZO method is based on the same principle, but with this method, a sample of 25
ml is centrifuged for 30 minutes at 1 000 rpm, 40 °C and a radius of 250 mm. The fat
content of the 20 ml at the bottom is divided by the fat content of the whole sample, and
the ratio is multiplied by 100. The resulting index is called the NIZO value. The NIZO value
of pasteurized milk is normally 60 – 70 %.

Size distribution analysis

The size distribution of the particles or droplets in a sample can be determined in a well
defined way by using a laser diffraction unit (Figure 6.3.6), which sends a laser beam
through a sample in a cuvette. The light will be scattered and absorbed, depending on
the size, refractive index and numbers of particles in the sample.

The result is presented as size distribution curves. The percentage of the volume (fat) is
given as a function of the particle size (fat globule size). Three typical size distribution
curves for milk are shown in Figure 6.3.7. It can be seen that the curve shifts to the left
as a higher homogenization pressure is used.

Note that fat globules can aggregate during storage and that this can increase the
creaming rate.

Fig. 6.3.6

Particles analysis by laser diffraction.

Fig. 6.3.7

Size distribution curves.

Energy consumption and influence on temperature

The electrical power input needed for homogenization is expressed by the formula:

E = Electrical effect, kW
Qin = Feed capacity, l/h 10 000
P1 = Homogenization pressure, bar 200 (20 MPa)
Pin = Pressure to the pump, bar 2 (200 kPa)
ηpump = Efficiency coefficient of the pump 0.85
ηel. motor = Efficiency coefficient of the electrical motor 0.95

Formula 6.3.2

The efficiency coefficients are typical values. From the figures for feed capacity and
pressures given on the right above, the electric power demand will be 68 kW. Of this, 55
kW is used for pumping and converted to heat in the homogenization device, and 13 kW
is released as heat to the cooling water and to the air.
As was mentioned above, part of the pressure energy supplied is released as heat. Given
the temperature of the feed, Tin, the homogenization pressure, P1, the pressure after
homogenization, Pout, and that every 4 MPa (40 bar) in pressure drop raises the
temperature by 1 °C, the following formula is applicable:
Formula 6.3.3

The energy consumption, temperature increase and pressure decrease are illustrated in
Figure 6.3.8.
Tin = 65 °C
P1 = 200 bar (20 MPa)
Pout = 4 bar (400 kPa)

resulting in

Tout = 70 °C

Fig. 6.3.8

Energy, temperature and pressure in a homogenization example.

The homogenizer in a processing line

In general, the homogenizer is placed upstream, i.e. before the final heating section in a
heat exchanger. In most pasteurization plants for market milk production, the
homogenizer is usually placed after the first regenerative section.
In production of UHT milk, the homogenizer is generally placed upstream in indirect
systems but always downstream in direct systems, i.e. on the aseptic side after UHT
treatment. In the latter case, the homogenizer is of aseptic design with special piston
seals, sterile steam condenser and special aseptic dampers.
However, downstream location of the homogenizer is recommended for indirect UHT
systems when milk products with a fat content higher than
6 – 10 % and/or with increased protein content are going to be processed. The reason is
that with increased fat and protein contents, fat clusters and/or agglomerates (protein)
form at the very high heat treatment temperatures. These clusters/agglomerates are
broken up by the aseptic homogenizer located downstream.
Split homogenization

An aseptic homogenizer is more expensive to operate. In some cases it is sufficient if just

the second stage is placed downstream. This arrangement is called split homogenization.
Note that the whole section, including the heat exchanger, between the first and the
second stage in the homogenizer, has to withstand a fairly high pressure.

Full stream homogenization

Full stream or total homogenization is the most commonly used form of homogenization
of UHT milk and milk intended for cultured milk products.
The fat content of the milk is standardized prior to homogenization, as is the solids-non-
fat content in certain circumstances, e.g. in yoghurt production.

Partial homogenization

Partial stream homogenization means that the main body of skim milk is not
homogenized, but only the cream together with a small proportion of skim milk. This form
of homogenization is mainly applied to pasteurized market milk. The basic reason is to
reduce operating costs. Total power
consumption is cut by some 80 % because of the smaller volume passing through the
As sufficiently good homogenization can be reached when the product contains at least
0.2 g casein per g fat, a maximum cream fat content of 18% is recommended. The hourly
capacity of a homogenizer used for partial homogenization can be dimensioned
according to the following example.

Qp = Plant input capacity, l/h 10 000
Qsm = Output of standardized milk, l/h
Qh = Homogenizer capacity, l/h
frm = Fat content of raw milk, % 4.0
fsm = Fat content of standardized milk, % 3.5
fcs = Fat content of cream from separator, % 35
fch = Fat content of cream to be homogenized, % 18

The hourly output of pasteurized standardized milk, Qsm, will be approx. 9 840 l. Inserted
into Formula 2, this gives an hourly homogenizer capacity of approx. 1 915 l, i.e. about
one-fifth of the output capacity.
The flow pattern in a plant for partially homogenized milk is illustrated in Figure 6.3.9.
Formula 6.3.4

Fig. 6.3.9

Product flow at partial stream homogenization.