Gallium Nitride (GaN) and RF (Radio Frequency) Energy applications are on the cusp of transforming the industrial market. We have examined how GaN has changed cooking, plasma lighting and medical processes, and in part four of our RF Energy in Daily Life series, we are going to look at GaN for industrial heating and drying.
From an industrial standpoint, RF Energy is not new. RF dryers have been used for industrial heating and drying of materials that don’t respond well to traditional methods for years. Ceramics, glass and fiberglass applications require processes that dry without cracking. Where other methods failed entirely, in many cases, RF Energy provides the only option for drying these materials, as it can eliminate moisture in a controlled way.
Innovations in RF technology will allow for greater efficiencies and control throughout the heating and drying process going forward. Yesterday’s RF applications required the use of a magnetron to generate energy, but by using semiconductor devices, the total system cost structure is lowered and the applications have greater precision and control. The resulting uses for food processing, industrial heating and drying, and the energy industry are just the beginning. The low costs and high precision involved are allowing industry leaders like MACOM to deploy innovations throughout the marketplace.
Agricultural Processes and RF Energy
In previous blog posts, we have discussed how consumer cooking capabilities will be revolutionized by RF technology. However, the applications for food processing begin much earlier in the supply chain, with the role of RF in assisting the pasteurizing and drying processes. As the National Institutes for Health (NIH) points out, drying is an indispensable process in many food industries and in many agricultural countries. Their research states, “Large quantities of food products are dried to improve shelf life, reduce packaging cost, lower shipping weights, enhance appearance, encapsulate original flavor and maintain nutritional value.”
The higher precision and control of RF Energy for commercial drying processes provides considerable benefits to numerous other agricultural applications. For example, farmers and industrial food producers battle harvesting crops against the wreckage caused by longer drying times. For grains, legumes and seeds, RF drying methods eliminate moisture faster and reduce processing times, allowing crops to be used for maximum potential and nutritional benefit. Not only can RF Energy cook the food in your home more efficiently, it will also become part of the agricultural processes to get quality nutrition to your door. MACOM and the RF Energy Alliance are leading the way in enabling solid-state technology for these applications, removing price and size barriers from the process.
Paper, Textiles and Wood
In their book Radio-Frequency Heating in Food Processing: Principles and Applications, George B. Awuah, Hosahalli S. Ramaswamy and Juming Tang detail applications from dried vegetables to alfalfa that are enabled by RF heating and drying methods. They also note that wood, plastics, pharmaceuticals, papers and textiles all can use RF Energy for lower costs and increased efficiencies to the industrial process. As RF energy changes the basic steps in manufacturing for each of these materials, the applications are expected to expand as well. Leaders like MACOM are changing the basics of industry by combining GaN and solid-state semiconductor technology with these processes for widespread use with lower costs.
RF Energy uses less energy than traditional drying and heating methods, and the level of precision allows every watt to be used efficiently. From a conservation standpoint, this benefits the industry in two ways – less cost and greater control.
But another energy benefit beyond consumption is the industrial drying and heating applications of GaN and RF as they apply to the oil industry. Companies like Suncor are already experimenting with RF Energy to add heat to the oil extraction process and produce heavy crude. Chevron has filed patent claims on the use of RF in multi-step processes as a method of extraction as well. These techniques will allow oil companies more access to oil with greater control over their extraction. Less waste, higher return on deposits, and a lower cost for heating and extraction processes stand ready to change the oil industry.
Reduced Environmental Impact
Employing solid state technology is expected to change the environmental impact of oil extraction as well. Fracking is an oil extraction technique that involves using heated water and chemicals to produce crude oil. The side effects of the process include polluted water and even manmade earthquakes. RF Energy allows for a cost effective alternative that reduces the water used and the resultant polluted debris. In addition, the precision of these oil extraction methods leads to less overall environmental impact. Higher levels of control allow RF Energy to improve extraction methods while also reducing Greenhouse gas emissions.
Another benefit of solid state RF Energy devices in these industrial applications that shouldn’t be forgotten is the improved reliability it brings to processes that often run 24/7. While magnetron based systems typically degrade over time and need constant maintenance or replacement, the new solid state based systems are capable of running free of maintenance, without experiencing any degradation.
Industry and Beyond
As the opportunities for RF energy to enable improved processes with more control continue to grow, MACOM continues to work with industry leaders to apply best practices and enable RF Energy with our GaN-on-Silicon (GaN-on-Si) solutions. Be sure to learn more about the trending applications for RF Energy and how they apply to you in daily life, and check out MACOM’s toolkit, created to ease the process of designing with RF Energy applications.