South Australian company, Advanced Material Solutions (AMS) began commissioning their first commercial units last month and plans to ramp up its workforce from 26 to more than 200 to cater for increasing global demand.
AMS Filtration managing director Gilbert Erskine said the robust titanium membranes were so strong that they could run 24-hours a day for a week while polymeric (plastic) or ceramic filters could spend 30 per cent of their time in cleaning modes, which often included chemicals.
He said his Viti-flow system could be easily cleaned in minutes with hot water and could extract solids up to 80 per cent, compared with about 10 per cent for many traditional membranes.
“The difference between 10 per cent solids and 80 per cent solids would be at least a 7 per cent increase in the product you can put in a bottle – that’s seven litres in every 100,” Erskine said.
“From when a tonne of grapes came in to when it’s ready for the bottle it’s been through the filtration process several times and each time we can capture that extra 7 per cent that would normally go down the drain so that’s payback right away.”
The system is scalable to suit all sizes of wineries, with the bigger units installed at major Australian wineries so far featuring four sets of membranes capable of filtering 35,000-40,000 litres an hour. They produce clean filtrate at less than 1NTU and solids of up to 80 per cent.
Based at Lonsdale in Adelaide’s southern suburbs, AMS Filtration has been in business since 1985 and has had a long affiliation with the wine industry.
It started out making stainless steel fittings, heat exchangers and refrigeration plants for wineries before experimenting with polymeric, ceramic and stainless steel filter membranes.
The stainless steel filters were the most effective but also the most expensive and they were eventually set up in Indonesia to service the palm oil industry, where they proved more profitable.
After many years of experimentation and collaboration with Australian universities, the company developed the titanium membranes and has been secretly trialling the technology with industry partners for the past few years.
“It’s been a 30-year journey but it is very difficult to do, titanium itself is very difficult to work with and it’s taken us a long time and many mistakes,” Erskine said.
“Titanium is very expensive – it’s much more expensive than stainless steel but due to its properties we’ve been able to make it much, much thinner and make the capillary size much smaller than traditional stainless steel so we’ve reduced the weight of the membrane and just by reducing that weight it compensates for the high cost raw material.
“We had a good name in the wine industry so it seemed that the wine industry was where we should launch our filter.”
AMS Filtration exhibited at the 2018 Unified Wine & Grape Symposium in California in January and took orders from American wineries without them even seeing the filters in action. Erskine will return to the US next month to follow up with major wineries that made inquiries at the symposium – the largest wine show of its kind in the Americas.
Erskine said he was confident his titanium membrane filters would eventually be sold almost everywhere wine was made.
“We are talking with Portugal at the moment, we’ve already got orders from New Zealand,” he said.
“We’ve put a salesman in New Zealand and we intend on having a sales force globally so we’ll open offices in South America, North America, Europe and we will definitely have these filters right around the world.
“Right now there’s 26 of us – I’ve already advised three more people to start and we envisage there’ll be over 200 people here within three years.
“We are a tiny little company so we are trying to hammer along as fast as we can go but as we get a little bit stronger we will increase our capacity and we’ll just keep doing that to whatever size we need to be.”
South Australia is consistently responsible for about 50 per cent of Australia’s annual wine production and is home to the world-renowned regions of Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale and global brands Penfolds, Jacob’s Creek, Hardys Wines and Wolf Blass.
Erskine said the AMS Filtration system also improved quality by reducing wine “bruising” and the risk of taint because of its rigorous cleaning system at water temperatures of up to 90 degrees.
He said the micron rating of the titanium membrane could also be adjusted to 0.1 microns to filter out e coli or bacteria, 0.2 for standard white wine, 0.4 – 0.45 for red wine or larger for fortifieds.
“We have the ability to change that micron and again that comes down to the strength of the titanium because as you go up in pore size you are traditionally weakening the support structure but titanium can withstand it.
“There are people claiming to make titanium membranes but there is no one else in the world that we know of producing small pore titanium membranes in commercial quantities.”
AMS Filtration is also exploring systems for a range of other industries including beer, meat processing and water management.
“We wanted to focus on wineries first because we have a history in the wine industry but as other opportunities have come up we’ve taken them,” Erskine said.
“The sky is the limit, the filtration market is absolutely enormous and even if we ended up with a very small percentage of that you’d be talking hundreds of employees.”