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Paper #1171014

ACSAICHE 99014 – Microwave and RF drying of heat sensitive and difficult to dry
Robert F. Schiffmann, R.F. Schiffmann Associates, Inc.
149 West 88 Street, New York, NY 10024

Microwaves and radio frequency (RF) heating offer unique means of drying heat
sensitive and difficult to dry materials. These closely related energy sources create
unique thermal patterns within a material and, as a result, may cause rapid moisture or
solvent removal, often under much lower ambient temperatures. However, these energy
sources are generated by electricity and, thus, may have high capital cost. Therefore,
both microwave and RF drying should only be used where their many unique benefits
cannot be achieved by any other means.

Background: The terms microwaves, radio frequency, and dielectric can be confusing
and need to be defined. Dielectric heating can be applied to all electromagnetic
frequencies up to and including the infrared band. For our purposes, we will use the
terms microwave and RF and link these to specific frequencies and wavelength based
upon the availability of equipment (Table 1), and the term dielectric to refer to both.

Table 1
Wavelength, Frequency & Penetration Depth of RF and Microwave System Frequency

5.0* 13.56* 27.12* 40.0* 915** 2450**

Meters 60.0 22.1 11.1 7.5 0.328 0.122
Feet 196.9 72.6 36.3 24.6 1.07 0.400
Depth of Penetration
Meters 23.9 8.8 4.4 3.0 0.130 0.049
Feet 78.4 28.9 14.4 9.8 0.425 0.158

*: RF frequency
**: Microwave frequency
Note: The Depth of Penetration is shown for Douglas Fir, and represents the depth at
which 63 % of the energy has been attenuated within the material.

Process Advantages of Microwave and RF Systems

Advantages of Microwave and RF Heating:
Heating and drying with microwave and RF energy is distinctly different from
conventional means. Whereas conventional methods depend upon the slow march of
heat from the surface of the material to the interior as determined by differential in


far more effective use of conventional heating in combination with the RF methods. or be otherwise damaged or dry so quickly that the steam or 2 . This is often a slow process. A word of caution must be expressed here. Care must be taken not to heat so fast that the material may scorch. heating with RF and microwave energy is. which requires high external temperatures to generate the temperature differences required. These systems can heat and dry quickly. This leads to very rapid drying without the need to overheat the atmosphere and perhaps cause case hardening or other surface overheating phenomena. and other problems. mass transfer is primarily due to the total pressure gradient established because of the rapid vapor generation within the material. in effect. Reduction of migration: the solvent often mobilized as a vapor. diffusion rate limited. Most of the moisture is vaporized before leaving the sample. the direct coupling of energy into the solvent. In conventional drying. therefore does not transfer other dissolved materials to the surface. Table 2 Advantages of Microwave and RF Drying Efficiency: in most cases. nearly instantaneously. the energy couples into the solvent. Conveyorized systems: less floor space. Leveling effects: coupling tends toward the wetter areas. forcing liquid to the surface. possible lower drying temperatures. but too rapid heating can be destructive. not the substrate Nondestructive: drying can be done at low ambient temperatures. no need to maintain high surface temperatures. leading to lower thermal profiles and elimination of case hardening. liquid may be removed from the sample under the influence of a total pressure gradient. Product improvement in some cases: eliminates case hardening. Thus there is in effect a sort of “pumping” action. burn. and less overall heat loss. Advantages of Microwave and RF Drying The mechanism for drying with microwaves and RF is different from that for conventional drying. bulk heating in which the electromagnetic field interacts with the material as a whole. The higher the initial moisture. If the sample is initially very wet and the pressure inside rises very rapidly.temperature from a hot outside to a cool inside. This is due to speed of drying. Of great interest today are the potential energy savings achievable from such a system. the greater is the influence of the pressure gradient on the total mass removal. internal stresses. Uniformity of drying: by a combination of more uniform thermal profiles and leveling. often as a vapor. the potential for mass transfer is the mass concentration gradient existing between the wet interior and the drier surface. reduced handling. The heating occurs on the interior of the material. Table 2 summarizes the advantages of microwave and RF drying. which results in energy transfer to the interior of the material. moisture is initially flashed off from the surface and the remaining water diffuses slowly to the surface. With internal heat generation. in microwave and RF systems. Speed: drying times can be shorted by 50% or more. Although the potential of energy transfer for heating is the temperature gradient.

There are three ways in which microwave and RF energy may be combined with conventional drying methods.other vapors cannot escape quickly enough. whereas the unique pumping action of microwave and RF heating is an efficient way of removing internal free water and even bound water. by itself. When drying with dielectric heating it is usual to combine hot air with the electromagnetic energy. Note that drying with microwaves or RF alone can be very expensive in terms of both equipment and operating costs. By combining these properly. as illustrated in Figure 1. relatively efficient at removing free water at or near the surface. it is possible to draw on the benefits of each and maximize efficiency and keep the costs of drying down. which can lead to rupture of the piece or an explosion. This is because it usually improves the efficiency and the economics of the drying process. leading to internal pressure buildup. Hot air is. 3 . particularly in microwave systems.

generates internal heat and vapor pressure. b. which may alter their composition or otherwise cause damage or deterioration. There are several ways this may be done: • Reduced ambient temperature: in conventional dryers. the interior of the load is rapidly heated to evaporation temperature. Drying of heat sensitive materials: many materials. At this point. etc. Proper selection and addition of any of the above methods results in an overall increase in drying efficiency and throughput. as its primary function is to transport the evolved moisture out of the dryer. the surface of the material is dry and moisture is concentrated in the center. By adding a microwave or RF dryer at the exit of the conventional dryer. where it is readily removed. (b) booster drying. The drying is sharply increased often with a leverage of 6:1 or 8:1 in terms of increased drying capacity for each unit of electromagnetic energy added. 1-c) The least efficient portion of a conventional drying system is near the end. and can bring about large economic savings in spite of the greater cost for electrical energy than natural gas. it replaces the inefficiency of hot air drying with internal heat generation. 4 . c) Typical drying curves for microwave and RF drying systems: (a) preheating with microwave or RF. the major means of increasing the drying rate is to raise the ambient temperature. thereby increasing the throughput of the dryer while presenting the dryer with an initially wetter load. Figure 1 (a. usually at low wattage output. thereby forcing moisture to the surface and immediately permitting the conventional dryer to operate at its most efficient condition. are sensitive to high ambient temperatures. 1-a) By applying the microwave or RF energy at or before the entrance to the conventional dryer. hard to heat materials. The added electromagnetic energy. This is most effective on thick. with heat sensitive or easily case hardened materials this option is limited. chemicals. The drying curve is steeper. Booster Drying (Fig. the ambient temperature may be lower. at higher temperatures. Finish Drying (Fig. (c) finish drying. This method also provides close control of the terminal moisture and moisture leveling while avoiding over drying. forcing the moisture to the surface. Preheating (Fig. 1-b) The microwave or RF energy is added to the conventional dryer when the drying rate begins to fall off. after which two-thirds of the time may be spent removing the last one-third of the water. The conventional drying may also be speeded up. thus increasing the efficiency. and drying time is shorted. such as pharmaceuticals. On the other hand. foods. microwave and RF dryers use the hot air to remove the moisture driven to the surface by internal heating. Therefore. However.

by using very low levels of these energy sources combined with warm to hot air at significant velocity. so only the solid portion is visible to the energy. Drying must be slow and at reduced temperatures to avoid case hardening or other structural damage. sanitary ware. • Porous solids: the existence of pores within a material makes conventional heat transfer difficult and slow. to evaporate it. the material to be to be dried. This application may be done in either a batch or continuous applicator has been used in the production of a heat sensitive vitamin. o The existence of these pores means that these waves can penetrate farther into the material. Therefore. This method has been used for the manufacture of high value pharmaceuticals. water or ethyl alcohol for example. the high costs associated with dielectric heating 5 . while the microwaves couple into and evaporate the solvent. are sensitive to high ambient temperatures that may be significantly shortened by judicious applications of microwaves or RF with hot air. heat is easily generated within these materials. Since OSHSA regulations limits the handling of such parts to no more than 140 ° F. To raise the temperature is to case harden the surface which may crack during drying. gypsum forms and dog bones all have very dense internal structures. Dog bones. However. o The air in pores and voids is transparent to microwaves and RF. thereby heating and drying many times faster than the conventional methods. However. • Drying in a cold atmosphere: here. • Extremely dense materials: such things as ceramic tiles. leading to long drying times. creating a very dangerous situation for the dogs. both of which are thermo labile. Some examples are large Styrofoam blocks and catalytic converters. successful microwave and RF drying is possible in many instances. in a closed bowl system. but may lend themselves to dielectric drying. It has also been used to manufacture fruit flavors and enzymes. the normal drying times of 14 to 26 hours may be reduced to less than or slightly more than one hour by combining low levels of microwave energy continuously with the warm air. while microwaves or RF are applied to couple with the solvent. and without the case hardening or damage that accompany high temperature hot air drying. • Drying of difficult to dry materials: many materials are difficult or very slow to dry by conventional methods. may take as much as 7 days to dry at ambient temperatures. • The combination of microwaves with vacuum: here. such as chemotherapy agents. is maintained in an atmosphere considerably below room temperature. o Other examples are: the drying of gypsum forms used for production of airplane parts. for example. o Ceramics: these. also. usually in powder or granular form. the vacuum lowers the evaporation temperature.

especially for heat sensitive and difficult to dry materials. • There is a large bulk of material to be dried: The high capitol cost of the dielectric dryer makes it impractical to evaporate large quantities of water or another solvent. simply multiply that by the installed costs shown above. during or after a conventional dryer. So. When not to use microwaves or RF: There are some circumstances under which the use of dielectric drying is not practical. efficient. it is best to avoid using dielectric dryers. following one of the schemes suggested above. it may be practical to add before. Economics of microwave and RF drying: As stated above. or $ 10. such heating also provides significant benefits in terms of internal grain structure. reasonable cost conventional dryer is commonly used: The high cost of the dielectric dryer is likely to make it impractical. It is possible to quickly estimate a ball park cost for a system using the following: • One kilowatt of microwaves or RF will evaporate approximately one kilogram of water per hour. restricts their use to high value ceramics. to increase the efficiency or throughput. • The intrinsic value of the material is low: If the raw material cost is lower than $ 5. However. or shorten the drying time.00/kilo. systems. unless the drying can be done under vacuum or in an inert atmosphere. after calculating the kilos of water to be evaporated. In some cases. 6 . • Evaporation of flammable or explosive solvents: Because these energy sources have the potential to cause arcs. However. • An in depth method of analyzing cost is provided in a paper by this author: “A Primer for Evaluating the Economics of a Microwave of RF Processing System” Conclusions: Microwave and RF drying offer unique benefits not achieved any other way. which could cause catastrophic effects with such solvents. Some examples are: • A successful. The potential user should work closely with equipment manufacturers or other knowledgeable professionals to determine the practicality and overall costs associated with using such drying systems. the capitol cost of microwave and RF dryers is usually high and this restricts their use to applications to which they are uniquely suited. a dielectric dryer will probably be too expensive. The cost of a complete RF or microwave system can range from $5000 to $9000 per kilowatt. unless this drying provides some other significant benefit. or ant combination of these.00/lb. high capital cost restricts their use to those drying challenges that cannot be met any other way.