Spray drying
Spray drying is a method of producing a dry powder from a liquid or slurry by rapidly drying with a hot gas. This is the preferred method of drying of many thermally-sensitive materials such as foods and pharmaceuticals. A consistent particle size distribution is a reason for spray drying some industrial products such as catalysts. Air is the heated drying media; however, if the liquid is a flammable solvent such as ethanol
Ethanol, also called ethyl alcohol, pure alcohol, grain alcohol, or drinking alcohol, is a volatile, flammable, colorless liquid. It is a psychoactive drug and one of the oldest recreational drugs. Best known as the type of alcohol found in alcoholic beverages, it is also used in thermometers, as a...

 or the product is oxygen-sensitive then nitrogen
Nitrogen is a chemical element that has the symbol N, atomic number of 7 and atomic mass 14.00674 u. Elemental nitrogen is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, and mostly inert diatomic gas at standard conditions, constituting 78.08% by volume of Earth's atmosphere...

 is used.

All spray dryers use some type of atomizer
Atomizer nozzle
An atomizer nozzle is an aspirator nozzle for producing a fine spray of a liquid based on the Venturi effect.-Principle of operation :When a gas is injected under pressure through a tube with a decreasing section, it speeds up, generating a pressure drop at the narrowest point .The reduced...

 or spray nozzle
Spray nozzle
A spray nozzle is a precision device that facilitates dispersion of liquid into a spray. Nozzles are used for three purposes: to distribute a liquid over an area, to increase liquid surface area, and create impact force on a solid surface...

 to disperse the liquid or slurry into a controlled drop size spray. The most common of these are rotary disks and single-fluid high pressure swirl nozzles. Alternatively, for some applications two-fluid or ultrasonic nozzles
Ultrasonic Nozzle
This type of spray nozzle uses high frequency vibration to produce very narrow drop size distribution and low velocity spray from a low viscosity liquid. The vibration of a piezoelectric crystal causes capillary waves on the nozzle surface liquid film...

 are used. Depending on the process needs drop sizes from 10 to 500 µm can be achieved with the appropriate choices. The most common applications are in the 100 to 200 µm diameter range. The dry powder is often free-flowing.

The most common spray dryers are called single effect as there is only one drying air on the top of the drying chamber (see n°4 on the scheme). In most cases the air is blown in co-current of the sprayed liquid. The powders obtained with such type of dryers are fine with a lot of dusts and a poor flowability. In order to reduce the dusts and increase the flowability of the powders, there is since over 20 years a new generation of spray dryers called multiple effect spray dryers. Instead of drying the liquid in one stage, the drying is done through two steps: one at the top (as per single effect) and one or an integrated static bed at the bottom of the chamber. The integration of this fluidized bed allows, by fluidizing the powder inside a humid atmosphere, to agglomerate the fine particles and to obtain granules having commonly a medium particle size within a range of 100 to 300 µm. Because of this large particle size, these powders are free-flowing.

The fines generated by the first stage drying can be recycled in continuous flow either at the top of the chamber (around the sprayed liquid) or at the bottom inside the integrated fluidized bed
Fluidized bed
A fluidized bed is formed when a quantity of a solid particulate substance is placed under appropriate conditions to cause the solid/fluid mixture to behave as a fluid. This is usually achieved by the introduction of pressurized fluid through the particulate medium...

The drying of the powder can be finalized on an external vibrating fluidized bed.

The hot drying gas can be passed as a co-current or counter-current flow to the atomiser direction. The co-current flow enables the particles to have a lower residence time within the system and the particle separator (typically a cyclone device) operates more efficiently. The counter-current flow method enables a greater residence time of the particles in the chamber and usually is paired with a fluidized bed system.

Alternatives to spray dryers are:
  1. Freeze dryer: a more-expensive batch process for products that degrade in spray drying. Dry product is not free-flowing.
  2. Drum dryer
    Drum drying
    Drum drying is a method used for drying out liquids; for example, milk is applied as a thin film to the surface of a heated drum, and the dried milk solids are then scraped off with a knife...

    : a less-expensive continuous process for low-value products; creates flakes instead of free-flowing powder.
  3. Pulse combustion dryer: A less-expensive continuous process that can handle higher viscosities and solids loading than a spray dryer, and that sometimes gives a freeze-dry quality powder that is free-flowing.

Spray dryer

A spray dryer is a device used in spray drying. It takes a liquid stream and separates the solute or suspension as a solid and the solvent into a vapor. The solid is usually collected in a drum or cyclone. The liquid input stream is sprayed through a nozzle into a hot vapor stream and vaporised. Solids form as moisture quickly leaves the droplets. A nozzle is usually used to make the droplets as small as possible, maximising heat transfer and the rate of water vaporisation. Droplet sizes can range from 20 to 180 μm depending on the nozzle.
There are two main types of nozzles: high pressure single fluid nozzle (50 to 300 bars) and two-fluid nozzles: one fluid is the liquid to dry and the second is compressed gas (generally air at 1 to 7 bars).

Spray dryers can dry a product very quickly compared to other methods of drying. They also turn a solution, or slurry into a dried powder in a single step, which can be advantageous for profit maximization and process simplification.


Spray drying often is used as an encapsulation technique
Micro-encapsulation is a process in which tiny particles or droplets are surrounded by a coating to give small capsules many useful properties. In a relatively simplistic form, a microcapsule is a small sphere with a uniform wall around it...

 by the food and other industries. A substance to be encapsulated (the load) and an amphipathic carrier (usually some sort of modified starch
Starch or amylum is a carbohydrate consisting of a large number of glucose units joined together by glycosidic bonds. This polysaccharide is produced by all green plants as an energy store...

) are homogenized
Homogenization (chemistry)
Homogenization or homogenisation is any of several processes used to make a chemical mixture the same throughout.-Definition:Homogenization is intensive blending of mutually related substances or groups of mutually related substances to form a constant of different insoluble phases to obtain a...

 as a suspension
Suspension (chemistry)
In chemistry, a suspension is a heterogeneous fluid containing solid particles that are sufficiently large for sedimentation. Usually they must be larger than 1 micrometer. The internal phase is dispersed throughout the external phase through mechanical agitation, with the use of certain...

 in water (the slurry). The slurry is then fed into a spray drier, usually a tower heated to temperatures well over the boiling point of water
Water is a chemical substance with the chemical formula H2O. A water molecule contains one oxygen and two hydrogen atoms connected by covalent bonds. Water is a liquid at ambient conditions, but it often co-exists on Earth with its solid state, ice, and gaseous state . Water also exists in a...


As the slurry enters the tower, it is atomized. Partly because of the high surface tension
Surface tension
Surface tension is a property of the surface of a liquid that allows it to resist an external force. It is revealed, for example, in floating of some objects on the surface of water, even though they are denser than water, and in the ability of some insects to run on the water surface...

 of water and partly because of the hydrophobic
In chemistry, hydrophobicity is the physical property of a molecule that is repelled from a mass of water....

A hydrophile, from the Greek "water" and φιλια "love," is a molecule or other molecular entity that is attracted to, and tends to be dissolved by water. A hydrophilic molecule or portion of a molecule is one that has a tendency to interact with or be dissolved by, water and other polar substances...

 interactions between the amphipathic carrier, the water, and the load, the atomized slurry forms micelle
A micelle is an aggregate of surfactant molecules dispersed in a liquid colloid. A typical micelle in aqueous solution forms an aggregate with the hydrophilic "head" regions in contact with surrounding solvent, sequestering the hydrophobic single tail regions in the micelle centre. This phase is...

s. The small size of the drops (averaging 100 micrometer
A micrometer , is by definition 1×10-6 of a meter .In plain English, it means one-millionth of a meter . Its unit symbol in the International System of Units is μm...

s in diameter) results in a relatively large surface area which dries quickly. As the water dries, the carrier forms a hardened shell around the load.

Load loss is usually a function of molecular weight. That is, lighter molecules tend to boil off in larger quantities at the processing temperatures. Loss is minimized industrially by spraying into taller towers. A larger volume of air has a lower average humidity as the process proceeds. By the osmosis
Osmosis is the movement of solvent molecules through a selectively permeable membrane into a region of higher solute concentration, aiming to equalize the solute concentrations on the two sides...

 principle, water will be encouraged by its difference in fugacities
In chemical thermodynamics, the fugacity of a real gas is an effective pressure which replaces the true mechanical pressure in accurate chemical equilibrium calculations. It is equal to the pressure of an ideal gas which has the same chemical potential as the real gas. For example, nitrogen gas ...

 in the vapor and liquid phases to leave the micelles and enter the air. Therefore, the same percentage of water can be dried out of the particles at lower temperatures if larger towers are used. Alternatively, the slurry can be sprayed into a partial vacuum. Since the boiling point of a solvent is the temperature at which the vapor pressure of the solvent is equal to the ambient pressure, reducing pressure in the tower has the effect of lowering the boiling point of the solvent.

The application of the spray drying encapsulation technique is to prepare "dehydrated" powders of substances which do not have any water to dehydrate. For example, instant drink mixes are spray dries of the various chemicals which make up the beverage. The technique was once used to remove water from food products; for instance, in the preparation of dehydrated milk. Because the milk was not being encapsulated and because spray drying causes thermal degradation, milk dehydration and similar processes have been replaced by other dehydration techniques. Skim milk powders
Powdered milk
Powdered milk is a manufactured dairy product made by evaporating milk to dryness. One purpose of drying milk is to preserve it; milk powder has a far longer shelf life than liquid milk and does not need to be refrigerated, due to its low moisture content. Another purpose is to reduce its bulk for...

 are still widely produced using spray drying technology around the world, typically at high solids concentration for maximum drying efficiency. Thermal degradation of products can be overcome by using lower operating temperatures and larger chamber sizes for increased residence times.

Recent research is now suggesting that the use of spray-drying techniques may be an alternative method for crystallization of amorphous powders during the drying process since the temperature effects on the amorphous powders may be significant depending on drying residence times.

Spray drying applications

Food: milk powder, coffee, tea, eggs, cereal, spices, flavorings, starch and starch derivatives, vitamins, enzymes, colourings...

Pharmaceutical: antibiotics, medical ingredients, additives

Industrial: paint pigments, ceramic materials, catalyst supports

Nano spray dryer

The nano spray dryer
Nano spray dryer
Nano spray dryers refer to using spray drying to create particles in the nanometer range. Spray drying is a gentle method for producing powders with a defined particle size out of solutions, dispersions, and emulsions which is widely used for pharmaceuticals, food, biotechnology, and other...

offers new possibilities in the field of spray drying. It allows to produce particles in the range of 300 nm to 5 μm with a narrow size distribution. High yields are produced up to 90% and the minimal sample amount is 1 mL.

Further reading

  • Keey, R.B., (1992). Drying of Loose and Particulate Materials 1st ed., Taylor & Francis, ISBN 0891168788
  • Nutritional evaluation of food processing second edition (1975), Robert S. Harris, Ph.D. and Endel Karmas Ph.D. (eds)
  • Cook, E.M, and DuMont, H.D. (1991) Process Drying Practice, McGraw-Hill, Inc., ISBN 0070124620

External links

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