Today, rice feeds more than 3.5 billion people. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN, by 2050, the number of people who eat rice daily will rise to 6 billion. Using current milling technology, production will have to increase by 70% to deliver the required quantity of food into the supply chain.
Annually, enough rice to feed 600 million people is lost from farm to fork. Over 1 billion households globally rely on rice for income and sustenance and in rural communities, 37% to 80% of the entire rice crop is lost post-harvest (IMechE*).
Since 2017, the National Centre of Excellence for Food Engineering (NCEFE) and Koolmill have been collaborating to transform the future of rice milling by optimising processes to reduce loss, damage and waste.
We initially collaborated on a project to investigate rice processing and waste valorisation that received £1.1m from the Newton Fund through Innovate UK. We were at the heart of an international partnership made up of 13 academic and industrial organisations in the UK and India.
Over the last six years, we have driven this innovation through a range of funding champions, including the Newton-Bhabha Fund, UK China Agri-Tech Challenge (IUK), BBSRC and the Royal Society. Work has taken place in China, India, Nigeria, Kenya and the Philippines all with an aim to optimise Koolmilll’s disruptive, accessible rice processing solution.
Through this collaboration, Koolmill has benefitted from a wider industrial network offered by our ‘living lab’. Our open innovation space has exposed Koolmill to other technological innovations and provided opportunity for in the moment problem solving discussions.
Together we are creating a Global Centre of Excellence for Cereal Milling.
What we did
Koolmill machinery provides a simplified, cold process, working gently with rice to deliver more food from existing harvests. Koolmill uses up to 90% less power than a traditional machine, typically consuming only 5kWh/to. This improves high quality food output by 20% and delivers a step change reduction in economic, social and environmental impact.
The Koolmill F1 Machine installed at NCEFE is a ‘living lab’ approach to research and innovation. The machine has digitised the milling process, including the development of a remote monitoring and augmented reality toolkit to remotely support machines globally. NCEFE Academics created a highly accurate ‘digital twin’ of the milling chamber, enabling the creation of forecasting simulations. Koollmill and NCEFE are also working to auto-classify broken rice. This will enable closed loop feedback to reconfigure machines in real time, minimising broken grains which maximises both the return of food and economic value.
Koolmill’s chamber flexibility can be adapted to process other grains, such as barley, legumes and pulses.
Through collaborative research and innovation, the machinery has been repeatedly enhanced to optimise the rice milling process, improve capacity, reduce breakage and enable the development of waste by-products.
Through our wider academic network, Koolmill has been able to explore the development of byproducts including converting rice bran from an animal feed to a valuable and nutritious human food ingredient, creating additional revenue streams for millers.
In addition to heat and power generation, colleagues in our Materials Engineering Research Institute have successfully demonstrated that rice husk can contribute to green concrete which is stronger and has better fire resistance than conventional Portland Cement.
New and disruptive technology is a risky prospect for new adopters. Daily collaboration with NCEFE experts has provided the rigour and challenge required to turn a visionary idea into innovation in good standing. This research has the potential to transform health outcomes and support rural economies as well having a huge industrial impact for the UK food system.
The whole team is emerging as global thought leaders in cereal processing. Through this collaboration, Koolmill and Sheffield Hallam University will change the way the world is fed - one grain at a time.
“Being part of NCEFE’s ‘living lab’ has given us the opportunity to try things out as part of a group of engineering innovators within and beyond the University. The environment provides a mini reality where we can bring ideas and innovations to life, embracing the chance to try, fail, try and succeed.”
Alec Anderson, Koolmill
“The open innovation space enables business transformation through access to academic rigour, on-site technical support and a network of champions all aiming to be part of transforming the global food system.”
Martin Howarth, Director of the National Centre of Excellence for Food Engineering
* Source - Fox T. Global Food: Waste Not, Want Not. Institution of Mechanical Engineers; (IMechE).