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Title:
APPARATUS AND PROCESS FOR IRRADIATING MATERIALS WITH INFRARED RADIATION
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2021/062488
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
Disclosed herein is an apparatus for irradiating a material. In one aspect, the apparatus comprises a member comprising a source of infrared radiation and a surface for receiving the material whereby it is irradiatable, where a relative configuration of the member and the surface is adjustable to affect the infrared radiation with which the material is irradiated.

Inventors:
KARAGIANNIS ANDREW (AU)
HAWKINS DANIEL (AU)
Application Number:
AU2020/051065
Publication Date:
April 08, 2021
Filing Date:
October 02, 2020
Export Citation:
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Assignee:
IRTECH PTY LTD (AU)
International Classes:
F26B3/30; A23K10/30; A23K30/20; A23L3/005; A23L3/54; A61L2/08; B02C19/18; F26B23/04
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
FOUNDRY INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY PTY LTD (Queen Victoria Building, New South Wales 1230, AU)
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Claims:
CLAIMS:

1. An apparatus for irradiating a material, the apparatus comprising: a member comprising a source of infrared radiation; a surface for receiving the material whereby it is irradiatable, a relative configuration of the member and the surface being adjustable to affect the infrared radiation with which the material is irradiated.

2. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the member is moveable closer towards and further away from the surface.

3. The apparatus of claim 1 or claim 2, wherein the member is rotatable relative to the surface.

4. The apparatus of any one of claims 1 to 3, wherein the source of infrared radiation is configured to emit infrared radiation at a selectable frequency.

5. The apparatus of any one of claims 1 to 4, wherein the source of infrared radiation is configured to emit infrared radiation at a selectable intensity.

6. The apparatus of any one of claims 1 to 5, wherein the member is elongate and comprises a plurality of sources of infrared radiation along a length thereof.

7. The apparatus of claim 6, wherein each of the plurality of sources of infrared radiation is independently operable.

8. The apparatus of claim 6 or claim 7, wherein the surface is elongate and extends for a length corresponding to that of the elongate member.

9. The apparatus of any one of claims 1 to 8, wherein the source of infrared radiation comprises one or more infrared emitters.

10. The apparatus of any one of claims 1 to 9, wherein the material for irradiation is a particulate material and the apparatus is configured to cause a continual movement of the particulate material across over the surface.

11. The apparatus of claim 10, wherein the surface is configured to agitate the particulate material.

12. The apparatus of any one of claims 1 to 11, comprising a cylinder having a bore and an inner surface, wherein the surface for receiving the material is defined by the inner surface of the cylinder.

13. The apparatus of claim 12, wherein the cylinder is rotatable to agitate the material on the surface.

14. The apparatus of claim 12 or claim 13, wherein an end of the cylinder is raisable to cause a continual movement of the material through the cylinder.

15. The apparatus of any one of claims 12 to 14, wherein the member comprises a bridge that extends through the bore of the cylinder.

16. An apparatus for irradiating a particulate material, the apparatus comprising: a rotatable cylinder having a bore, an inner surface of the cylinder being configured to receive particulate material thereon; an elongate member comprising one or more sources of infrared radiation along a length thereof, the elongate member being configured to irradiate particulate material on the inner surface, wherein a position of the elongate member is adjustable to affect the infrared radiation that irradiates particulate maternal on the inner surface.

17. The apparatus of claim 16, wherein the elongate member is positioned within the bore of the cylinder.

18. The apparatus of claim 16 or claim 17, wherein the elongate member is moveable closer towards and further away from the inner surface of the cylinder.

19. The apparatus of any one of claims 16 to 18, wherein the elongate member is rotatable.

20. The apparatus of any one of claims 16 to 19, further comprising a lifter for raising an end of the cylinder whereby the particulate material is caused to move through the cylinder.

21. The apparatus of any one of claims 16 to 20, wherein the inner surface of the cylinder comprises protrusions configured to agitate the particulate material during rotation of the cylinder.

22. The apparatus of claim 21, wherein the protrusions are longitudinally arranged.

23. The apparatus of any one of claims 16 to 22, wherein the one or more sources of infrared radiation are configured to emit infrared radiation at a selectable frequency.

24. The apparatus of any one of claims 16 to 23, wherein the one or more sources of infrared radiation are configured to emit infrared radiation at a selectable intensity.

25. The apparatus of any one of claims 16 to 24, wherein the or each of the one or more sources of infrared radiation is independently operable.

26. The apparatus of any one of claims 16 to 25, wherein the one or more sources of infrared radiation comprise infrared emitters.

27. A method for irradiating a material, the method comprising irradiating the material in the apparatus of any one of claims 1 to 26.

28. A method for treating a food product, the method comprising irradiating the food product in the apparatus of any one of claims 1 to 26.

29. A method for treating a particulate food product, the method comprising irradiating the food product in the apparatus of any one of claims 1 to 26.

30. The method of claim 29, wherein the particulate food product is treated to achieve one or more of the following: increased starch availability, increased vitality, increased fermentability, devitalisation, degermination, pasteurisation, sterilisation, for reducing microbial load or for reducing the load of infecting organisms or weed species.

31. The method of claim 29 or claim 30, wherein the particulate food product is selected from one or more of the following: sorghum (milo), barley, wheat, corn (maize), oats, rice, beans, dry fruit, lupins, nuts, coffee beans, seeds, food adjuncts, pulses and legumes.

32. A method for improving the digestibility of a grain for an animal, the method comprising irradiating the grain in the apparatus of any one of claims 1 to 26 under conditions whereby starch in the grain is gelatinised.

33. The method of claim 32, wherein the grain is also exposed to convection heating, steam or a liquid during irradiation.

34. The method of claim 32 or 33, comprising monitoring one or more properties of irradiated grain, wherein the one or more properties are used to control the conditions in the apparatus.

35. The method of claim 34, wherein monitoring one or more properties of irradiated grain comprises measuring one or more of the following: temperature, moisture, colour, particle size, density, oil content, ash content, weight and or flow of the irradiated grain.

36. The method of any one of claims 32 to 35, comprising one or more pre-irradiation steps.

37. The method of claim 36, wherein the grain is mixed with a liquid pre-irradiation to increase a moisture content of the grain.

38. The method of any one of claims 32 to 37, comprising one or more post-irradiation steps.

39. The method of claim 38, wherein the grain is rolled post-irradiation.

40. An animal food product produced by the method of any one of claims 28 to 39.

Description:
APPARATUS AND PROCESS FOR IRRADIATING MATERIALS WITH INFRARED

RADIATION

Technical Field

[0001] The present invention relates to apparatus and processes for irradiating materials, and particularly particulate materials, with infrared radiation.

Background Art

[0002] Infrared radiation (IR) can be used to provide a quicker and more thorough heating of some materials than is possible with conventional heating. IR effectively heats the materials from the inside out, whereas convectional heating heats the materials from the outside in. Processes including IR have been used in a number of technological fields, including for example, for the thermal treatment of free flowing plastic materials as well as in the food industry for drying, roasting and coating free flowing food products. Such processes have been found to decrease processing time, compared to conventional heating processes.

[0003] Another application of IR is in the animal feed industry, where it is used to micronise grain for use as animal feed. Micronisation is a process used to make grains (typically oats) more easily digestible for animals such as horses. In the micronisation process, the starch in the grains is gelatinised, which makes it more digestible for the animal. Micronisation typically involves soaking the grain in water or exposing it to steam before using a conveyor belt system to move the grain through a chamber where it is exposed to high levels of convectional heat generated by catalytic (gas) IR. Finally, the grain is rolled, to even further improve its digestibility. Whilst effective to produce more digestible grain-based animal feed, micronisation is relatively energy intensive and the process is therefore really only economically viable for high value animals, such as horses.

[0004] It would be advantageous to provide alternative processes and apparatus for irradiating materials with infrared radiation.

Summary of Invention

[0005] In a first aspect, the present invention provides an apparatus for irradiating a material (e.g. a particulate material). The apparatus comprises a member comprising a source of infrared radiation and a surface for receiving the material whereby it is irradiatable. A relative configuration of the member and the surface is adjustable to affect the infrared radiation with which the material is irradiated. [0006] The apparatus of the present invention advantageously provides for an unparalleled versatility for irradiating different materials. Adjusting the member (with its source of IR) with respect to the surface (and hence material on the surface) in order to affect the IR experienced by the material enables the same apparatus to be used with many different types of materials and with different volumes of materials. The same apparatus may also be used to irradiate the same material differently (e.g. in different batches), for different outcomes. Further, the apparatus may be configured to minimise the amount of convectional heating experienced by the material, which can be detrimental to some materials.

[0007] As would also be appreciated, significant process efficiencies can be achieved using the apparatus of the present invention, when compared to conventional apparatus, which are typically configured for use only with a specific type of homogenous material and for a specific treatment regimen. Processes using the apparatus of the present invention can therefore result in reduced costs and other benefits, including a smaller footprint and a lower environment impact.

[0008] In some embodiments, the member may be moved closer towards and further away from the surface, which would have the effect of increasing or decreasing the IR intensity received by the material on the surface. In some embodiments, the member may rotatable relative to the surface, which would also have the effect of increasing or decreasing the IR directly received by the material on the surface, but which also may provide other conditions (such as those discussed below) at the surface which may be beneficial for the treatment of some materials.

[0009] In some embodiments, the member may be elongate and, in some of such embodiments, the elongate member may comprise a plurality of sources of infrared radiation along a length thereof. In some embodiments, the surface may be elongate and extend for a length corresponding to that of the elongate member. Such embodiments may provide for a more thorough treatment of the material in the apparatus, for example, by enabling a less intense IR to be used, due to a longer exposure time.

[0010] In some embodiments, the apparatus may be configured to cause a continual movement of particles across and over the surface (i.e. when the material is a particulate material), and hence through the apparatus (e.g. from an inlet to an outlet of the apparatus). In some embodiments, the surface may be configured to agitate particulate material such that different portions of the material may be irradiated.

[0011] In some embodiments, the apparatus may comprise a cylinder having a bore and an inner surface, where the surface for receiving material (e.g. in the form of particulate material) may be defined by the inner surface of a cylinder. The cylinder may, in some embodiments, be rotatable to agitate the material on the surface. An end of the cylinder may, in some embodiments, be raisable to cause a continual movement of the material over the surface and through the cylinder. The height to which the end of the cylinder is raised can control the rate of flow and residence time of the particulate material in the cylinder (and hence its duration of IR exposure). In some embodiments, the member may comprise a bridge that extends through the bore of the cylinder.

[0012] In a second aspect, the present invention provides an apparatus for irradiating a particulate material. The apparatus comprises a rotatable cylinder having a bore, an inner surface of the cylinder being configured to receive particulate material thereon. The apparatus also comprises an elongate member comprising one or more sources of infrared radiation along a length thereof, the elongate member being configured to irradiate particulate material on the inner surface. A position of the elongate member is adjustable to affect the infrared radiation that irradiates particulate maternal on the inner surface.

[0013] The configuration of the apparatus of the second aspect of the present invention has been found to advantageously allow an operator to fine-tune treatment processes for many different types of particulate materials and for many different treatment outcomes. Controlling the IR experienced by particles within the cylinder has, for example, enabled the inventors to process the particles more cheaply than is possible for conventional technologies. The inventors also note that the embodiments of the apparatus described below have a much smaller and more efficient footprint than the corresponding conventional apparatuses. The inventors also note that rotation of the cylinder creates a more uniform product through mixing than can be achieved using conveyor belts, probably because the tumbling action causes the particles to be presented to the incident IR in practically every possible orientation.

[0014] The elongate member would typically be positioned within the bore of the cylinder, although the inventors note that a cylinder formed from an IR transparent material such as a borosilicate glass would enable the sources of IR to be located outside of the cylinder, from where they may be able to provide benefits not attainable if they were in the cylinder's bore.

[0015] The features and configuration of the apparatus of the second aspect of the present invention may be the same as those of embodiments of the first aspect which include a cylinder. In effect, the apparatus of the second aspect of the present invention is a more specific embodiment of the first aspect of the present invention, one adapted particularly for irradiating particulate material such as grains.

[0016] In some embodiments, the elongate member may be moveable closer towards and further away from the inner surface of the cylinder. In some embodiments, the elongate member may be rotatable. As described above, these movements can position the source(s) of infrared radiation in practically any position with respect to particulate material received on the cylinder's inner surface, providing unprecedented versatility for application of IR to particulate materials.

[0017] In some embodiments, the apparatus may further comprise a lifter for raising an end of the cylinder such that the particulate material is caused to move through the cylinder by gravity (i.e. affecting its residence time in the cylinder). In some embodiments, the inner surface of the cylinder may comprise protrusions (e.g. longitudinally arranged protrusions) configured to agitate the particulate material during rotation of the cylinder, and hence even further enhance the tumbling movement of the particles within.

[0018] In some embodiments of the first and second aspects of the present invention, the source(s) of infrared radiation (e.g. infrared emitters) may be configured to emit infrared radiation at a selectable frequency (and hence wavelength). In some embodiments, the source(s) of infrared radiation may be configured to emit infrared radiation at a selectable intensity. In some embodiments, the source(s) of infrared radiation may be configured to emit infrared radiation at a selectable pulse rate, which may help to prevent damage occurring to the material (e.g. bursting of the material due to excessive heat build-up). In some embodiments, each source of infrared radiation may be independently operable. As would be appreciated, such features would even further increase the apparatus' versatility in use. In all these embodiments, the sources of infrared radiation may be manually controlled or, more likely, controlled automatically by a PLC to result in a desired treatment outcome (e.g. which receives data relating to the irradiated material and makes the necessary adjustments).

[0019] In a third aspect, the present invention provides a method for irradiating a material, the method comprising irradiating the material in the apparatus of the first or second aspect of the present invention. In some embodiments of the third aspect, the material may be irradiated to achieve one or more of the following: increased nutritional value or functionality, increased vitality (e.g. seed germination rate or seed vigour), pasteurisation, sterilisation, dehydration or drying, volume reduction, deodorising, for reducing microbial load or for reducing the load of infecting organisms.

[0020] In a fourth aspect, the present invention provides a method for irradiating a food product, the method comprising irradiating the food product in the apparatus of the first or second aspect of the present invention. [0021] In a fifth aspect, the present invention provides a method for treating a particulate food product, the method comprising irradiating the food product in the apparatus of the first or second aspect of the present invention.

[0022] In some embodiments of the fifth aspect, the particulate food product may be treated to achieve one or more of the following: increased starch availability, increased vitality (e.g. seed germination rate), increased fermentability (e.g. increasing a grain’s ability to be fermented, for the production of alcohol, for example), devitalisation, de-germination, pasteurisation, sterilisation, for reducing microbial load or for reducing the load of infecting organisms or weed species. Such treatments may also be used to inactivate (or at least disturb) proteins and enzymes in the particulate food product.

[0023] In some embodiments, the particulate food product may be selected from one or more of the following: sorghum (milo), barley, wheat, corn (maize), oats, rice, beans, dry fruit, lupins, nuts, coffee beans, seeds, food adjuncts, pulses and legumes.

[0024] In some embodiments, the method may also comprise one or more pre-irradiation and/or post-irradiation steps, such as those described herein in the context of various aspects of the invention. In some embodiments, for example, the method may further comprise a postirradiation step, where a temperature of the food product is maintained above a set point for a defined period of time in order to comply with a regulatory requirement. For example,

Australian standards require that grains be heated to a temperature of 90°C for a period of at least 60 seconds in order to devitalise the seeds. In some embodiments therefore, it can be advantageous to provide a post-irradiation step, whereby the requirement of this standard are met. This may be performed by an apparatus external to the irradiation chamber/cylinder or internal to it, and may be of a conveyor type system with IR emitters positioned either externally or and internally. Temperature probes may be provided at very short distances apart from each other feeding back to the PLC, which will controlling each independent emitter’s intensity in order to hold the material at a given and constant temperature (or even different temperatures) throughout the entire flow of the apparatus.

[0025] In a sixth aspect, the present invention provides a method for improving the digestibility of a grain for an animal, the method comprising irradiating the grain in the apparatus of the first or second aspect of the present invention under conditions whereby starch in the grain is gelatinised.

[0026] In some embodiments, the grain may also be exposed to convection heating, steam or a liquid during (or after) irradiation. Such additional processing may provide benefits such as a more complete treatment of the grain than would be achieved only via IR exposure. For example, the grains may be completely cooked instead of only partially cooked to gelatinise the starch, or the grains may be coated with a coating which improves the taste or other characteristic.

[0027] In some embodiments, the method may also comprise monitoring one or more properties of irradiated grain, where the one or more properties are used to control the conditions in the apparatus. Such feedback can be used to ensure that the method is being operated under conditions appropriate to achieve the desired effect. Monitoring one or more properties of the irradiated grain may, for example, involve measuring one or more of the following: temperature, moisture, colour, particle size, density, oil content, ash content, weight and or flow of the irradiated grain.

[0028] In some embodiments, the method may also comprise one or more pre-irradiation steps. For example, the grain may be mixed with a liquid pre-irradiation to increase the moisture content of the grain, which may result in a more effective treatment of the grain. For example, food colouring may be added to the grain, for example darkening the grain to increase IR absorption, therefore processing it more efficiently. Similarly, adding ingredients such as food grade acids may help to soften the grain and to minimize dust formation during processing or post processing. Other additives that add flavour and or nutrients may be used.

[0029] In some embodiments, the method may also comprise one or more post- irradiation steps. For example, the grain may be rolled post-irradiation in order to even further increase its digestibility to animals.

[0030] In a sixth aspect, the present invention provides an animal food product produced by the method of the fourth, fifth or sixth aspect of the present invention.

[0031] Additional features and advantages of the various aspects of the present invention will be described below in the context of specific embodiments. It will be appreciated, however, that such additional features may have a more general applicability in the present invention than that described in the context of these specific embodiments.

Brief Description of Drawings

[0032] Embodiments of the present invention will be described in further detail below with reference to the following drawings, in which:

[0033] Figure 1 shows a process in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention in which a grain is processed into an animal feed; [0034] Figure 2 shows a longitudinal cross sectional view of the rotating cylinder of an apparatus in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention;

[0035] Figure 3 shows a lateral cross sectional view of the rotating cylinder of Figure 2;

[0036] Figure 4 shows an embodiment of the apparatus of the present invention, including the rotating cylinder of Figure 2, in use;

[0037] Figure 5 shows a lateral cross sectional view of the rotating cylinder of Figure 4 whilst in use;

[0038] Figure 6 shows a side view of the elongate member having sources of infrared radiation therealong, taken out of the apparatus of Figure 4;

[0039] Figure 7 shows a cross sectional view of the elongate member of Figure 6;

[0040] Figure 8 shows a side view of a member comprising sources of IR in the form of a quartz cassette;

[0041] Figure 9 shows a perspective view of the quartz cassette of Figure 8;

[0042] Figure 10 shows a longitudinal cross sectional view of components of an apparatus in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;

[0043] Figure 11 shows a longitudinal cross sectional view of components of an apparatus in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;

[0044] Figure 12 shows a longitudinal cross sectional view of components of an apparatus in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;

[0045] Figure 13 shows a longitudinal cross sectional view of components of an apparatus in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention; and

[0046] Figure 14 shows a longitudinal cross sectional view of components of an apparatus in accordance with a minor variation in the configuration of the apparatus of Figure 13.

Description of Embodiments

[0047] As noted above, the present invention provides apparatus for irradiating a material. In one aspect, the apparatus comprises a member comprising a source of infrared radiation and a surface for receiving the material whereby it is irradiatable, where a relative configuration of the member and the surface is adjustable to affect the infrared radiation with which the product is irradiated. In another (more specific) aspect, the apparatus comprises a rotatable cylinder having a bore, where an inner surface of the cylinder is configured to receive particulate material thereon; an elongate member comprising one or more sources of infrared radiation along a length thereof, the elongate member being configured to irradiate particulate material on the inner surface. A position of the elongate member is adjustable to affect the infrared radiation that irradiates particulate maternal on the inner surface.

[0048] As noted above, infrared radiation (“IR”) heats solid and liquid materials from within, by causing molecules in the material (particularly water molecules) to vibrate resulting in kinetic (heat) energy being generated. Such a form of heating can be more efficient and beneficial than conventional convection heating, for example, and IR has therefore been used in numerous applications, examples of which include plasticising plasticiseable materials and cooking or otherwise heat-treating particulate food products.

[0049] IR effectively heats materials in a uniform and rapid manner by targeting and penetrating constituent water molecules throughout the material (from the surface right down to the core). Depending on the thickness of the material and factors such as the IR's intensity, frequency/wavelength and pulse rate, the heating time between surface and core can be extremely rapid. In contrast, convectional and conductional heating heats materials from the outside in, resulting in a non-uniform heating between the outer surface and the inner core. As such, depending on the material's heat tolerance (especially on its outer surface), lower heat intensity and longer retention times are required for these heating processes, which adds to the energy cost and overall process footprint.

[0050] Furthermore, treatments such as microbial decontamination, protein denaturization etc, may not be achievable using convectional and conductional heating due to excess heat damage on the material's surface by the time the required temperatures reach the material's core. In contrast, various IR parameters (intensity/wavelength/pulse rate, etc.) may be controlled in order to achieve secondary or dual treatments such a decontaminating microbial life within the material, crystalizing sugars, denaturing proteins, inactivating enzymes, etc.

[0051] An example of secondary or dual treatment which only IR can achieve is in the context of drying wheat grains (for example) from 17% moisture down to the required 13% moisture for safe storage. Due to the proteins in the wheat grains having low tolerance to high temperatures (i.e. over 57°C for 90 seconds retention time), conventional heating is not possible and this is why carcinogenic liquids and gases such as deltra methrine and phosphine are still used in for grain fumigation for the purpose of disinfesting the grain. However, IR will penetrate the water molecules in both the grain material (which has a low moisture content of 17%) and at the same time in the insect eggs (which have a moisture content of 55%). Because of the difference in moisture content, the insect’s eggs will undergo higher IR penetration and corresponding higher and more rapid increase in kinetic energy, resulting in a higher water vapour pressure built-up and a higher temperature built up within the eggs (the inventors have found that lethal temperatures can be reached within seconds). At the same time, however, the grain material undergoes a milder temperature and more uniform drying prosses.

[0052] In the present invention, a relative configuration of the member and the surface is adjustable in order to affect the infrared radiation with which the material is irradiated. Such relative movement may affect the IR incident of the material in a number of ways. For example, increasing the distance between the soured of IR and the material will decrease the IR intensity incident on the material. For example, changing the angle of the source of IR on the material will change the IR intensity incident on the material, with IR not absorbed by the particles being capable of performing other functions, such as heating the surface whereby a combination of IR and convectional heating is applied to the material.

[0053] The apparatus and processes of the present invention was originally developed in the context of disinfesting, pasteurising and micronising, pre-cooking and gelatinising grains. However, the inventors note that they may also be used for treating food products such as those described herein for one or more of the following reasons: aroma enhancement for spices, coffee, and starchy grains, thawing of frozen food stuff, blanching of vegetables, removal of trypsin inhibitor from soya beans etc., removal of oil from oily seeds and buds (e.g. canola oil etc.), puffing of grains, cracking of outer shells of nuts and seeds, drying of grains, vegetables and fruit (which may be diced, sliced or shredded), scorching of grains and nuts and food adjuncts, toasting of grains and nuts and food adjuncts, pasteurisation of liquids and liquid pulps (e.g. milk etc ), Assuring of grains to increase the grains' ability to uptake water and to decrease the energy required to mill the grain into flour and inactivation of enzymes beneficial in the production of baked goods, in the production of stockfeed and in the recycling of organic waste products into beneficial products.

[0054] It is also to be appreciated, however, that the present invention may also be useful in non- food related applications including, for example, in the production of pharmaceutical, cosmetic and mining goods, for ignition of carbonaceous material, curing of resins, expanding (exfoliating) of minerals such as vermiculite and deodorising of organic waste material. The present invention may also be useful in drying, sterilising and deodorising organic waste products (including sludge waste with moisture levels as high as 90%), drying or dehydrating materials, disinfecting and sterilising materials, deodorising materials, or for reducing the volume and weight of materials. The invention may, for example be used to drying and cure concrete and render, plaster and heat shrinking plastics, decontaminate garden wood chips by destroying mould thereon, or deodorising, drying and decontaminating composted garden fertilisers and soil amendments. The invention may, for example be used to recycle organic waste products such as sludge from wastewater treatment facilities into beneficial products such as soil amendments or fertilisers, etc. The invention may, for example, be used for the drying of insects and insect larvae (high in protein), as well as for the drying of moulds, fungus, algae, etc.

[0055] The present invention may be used in any application where irradiating the material will produce a beneficial effect. In the context of food products such as grains, for example, the invention may be used to increase the digestibility of the grain (i.e. by an animal) by increasing its starch availability because of the IR causing gelatinisation of the starch. In other applications, the invention may be used for the purpose of devitalising, de-germinating or rendering grains, nuts, pulses, or legumes, or seeds unable to germinate into a new plant, or for the purpose of reducing microbiological load, or pasteurising, or sterilising, or for the purpose of reducing the load of infesting organisms or weed species. The invention may instead be used to increase the ability of a seed to germinate (i.e. increase its vitality), when operated under specific parameters. The invention may also be used to increase the fermentability of grain, which simplifies the production of alcohol (whether for human consumption or ethanol for use as fuel) compared to non-irradiated grain.

[0056] Non-limiting examples of materials in the form of particulate food products include cereal grains such as sorghum (milo), barley, wheat, com (maize), rice, beans, oats and lupins. It will be appreciated however, that the invention has applicability for use with any other grains, nuts, seeds, beans, coffee beans, dry fruit, food adjuncts, pulses or legumes which, when treated in accordance with the present invention, are beneficially effected (e.g. for which increasing digestibility and/or starch availability is advantageous).

[0057] The apparatus of the first aspect of the present invention includes a member comprising a source of infrared radiation. Any member capable of achieving the functional requirements described herein may be used with the apparatus. The member may take any suitable structural form including, for example, bridges, rigs or booms. Sources of infrared radiation may also be located at the end of a manipulatable probe, for example if the surface is relatively small and inaccessible.

[0058] In some embodiments, the member may be elongate and, in which case, it may be advantageous for the member to include a plurality of sources of infrared radiation spaced along a length thereof. Such spaced apart sources of IR can be used to irradiate particulate material over a corresponding length of the surface, which may provide advantages such as the ability to use a lower intensity of IR because a longer irradiation time is possible, for example. Such sources of IR may be provided in any suitable configuration on the member, for example in rows parallel to or perpendicular (or at any other angle) to the surface, with a spacing between rows (and/or sources of IR) that is the same or different. In some embodiments, for example, the sources of IR may have a spacing ranging from between about 0.5mm and about 200mm.

[0059] The apparatus also includes a surface for receiving the material (e.g. particulate material) whereupon it is irradiatable. Again, the surface may take any form that is capable of achieving the functional requirements described herein. The surface may be provided by any appropriate stmcture, and may be flat or curved, smooth or rough, depending on the desired application. When curved, the surface would typically curve around the member and its sources of IR, the curvature being circular or parabolic which may advantageously result in a desired flow of particulate material over the surface or a desired reflection or intensification of the IR.

[0060] In some embodiments, the surface may be the internal surface of a structure, which may advantageously contain the IR for safety reasons or to improve efficiency (e.g. where the internal surface also includes IR reflectors). Such a structure may be partially open to the environment or fully enclosed. In alternatively embodiments, the surface may be an external surface of a stmcture.

[0061] The surface typically corresponds in size (especially its length) with the member and, in embodiments where the member is elongate, the surface may also be elongate and extend for a length corresponding to that of the elongate member (or at least to the portion of the member having the sources of IR). The advantages of such a stmcture are noted above.

[0062] In use, the material enters the apparatus, presents to (e.g. passes over) the surface (where it is irradiated) and then exits the apparatus. The apparatus may, for example, be configured such that it is able to cause a continual movement of the particles across over the surface (i.e. when the material is a flowable material, e.g. a particulate material). Any mechanism suitable to achieve this effect may be used, non-limiting examples of such being mechanisms which utilise gravity or mechanical means for advancing the particles. For example, an angle of the surface may be altered in order to control a rate at which the particulate material passes over the surface and is irradiated. The angle may be held constant, such that the particles progress over the surface at a roughly constant rate, or may increase and decease (e.g. where a batch of particles are irradiated at the same time before being advanced toward the outlet).

[0063] Other techniques may be used to advance the material through the apparatus, including, for example, vibratory techniques, conveyors (e.g. belts, screws, chains or buckets), pressurised air, rotary paddle, open and close valve and venturi suction transfer. [0064] The surface (or apparatus) may also be configured such that the material thereon is agitated, which would (especially for particulate materials such as grains) tend to more evenly expose the entirety of the particles to incident IR. In this manner, all of the particles, and not just the portion facing the source of IR would be irradiated. The surface may, for example, be vibrated in a to-and-fro movement, in any effective direction (e.g. laterally or longitudinally) and at any effective frequency. Alternatively (or in addition), the surface may be caused to move continuously such that the particulate material flows (e.g. in a tumbling effect). Any suitable mechanism may be used to achieve this effect, some of which will be described in further detail below.

[0065] In the apparatus, a relative configuration of the member and the surface is adjustable in order to affect the infrared radiation with which the material is irradiated. Either or both of the member and the surface may be moveable in order to achieve this affect, although the engineering requirements of an apparatus would likely be simplified if only one of the member and surface is moveable.

[0066] The member may be moveable closer towards and further away from the surface (or the surface moveable closer towards and further away from the member). Such movement would increase and decrease (respectively) the distance between the source of IR and the particulate material, which would affect the IR incident on the material by increasing or decreasing the material's total exposure to IR. The member (and, more particularly, the source of IR) may, for example, be as close as a few millimetres away from the surface (and may even be submerged in the material, for at least part of the treatment) and as far as a metre or so from the surface. The member need not be parallel to the surface, for example the member and surface may be closer together at the feed end of the apparatus than at the dispensing end, or vice versa.

[0067] Alternatively, or in addition, the member may be rotated relative to the surface (or the surface be rotated relative to the member). Such movement would also increase or decrease the IR incident on the material and thus increase or decrease the material's total exposure to IR. Furthermore, directing the IR away from the surface (and the material thereon) may have the effect of heating up other components of the apparatus (i.e. via conductive heating), which may result in the material experiencing a combination of IR and radiant heat. This variation in angle would increase or decrease the radiation : conduction : convection heating ratios experienced by the material. For example, the IR light source may be directed at the centre of the flowing material, where almost no IR reaches the surface, or towards an edge of the material, where IR reaches the surface and heats it such that an increased conductive heat effect of the surface also affects the material. Such treatments may be used to advantage in some circumstances, for example when roasting or toasting a material in order to give them a toasted effect by hot plating the surface. Typically, the entirety of the member is rotated but it may be advantageous in some embodiments for only a section or even alternating sections of the member to be rotatable.

[0068] The source of infrared radiation may be provided on the member in any manner compatible with the functional requirements of the apparatus. The source of infrared radiation may, for example, be provided integrally with the member or may depend from the member.

The source of infrared radiation may be provided by any suitable emitter of IR, such as, for example, infrared emitters. IR emitters used may, for example, be made of ceramic, quartz or metallic materials, and may have a single, double or multiple tube construction. Examples of IR emitters/lamps used by the present inventors in the embodiments described below include those sold by IRTech Pty Ltd having part no. 13523009185, which is a 3.5kW dual quartz tube IR emitter. Electric IR emitters have been found to have a good penetration effect and high intensity outcome.

[0069] The infrared radiation used in the present invention may have any frequency in the IR spectrum, which is generally considered to be electromagnetic radiation having a wavelength extending from about 700 nm to about 1 mm (corresponding to a frequency of between about 430 THz and about 300 GHz), that is effective to produce the result descried herein. Infrared radiation can be divided into three bands, IR-A, IR-B and IR-C, and IR from any of these bands may be used in the present invention. Specific IR wavelengths trialled by the inventors include 700 nm to about 4 micron, which have been found to be capable of achieving the results described below. IR wavelengths of from about 3400 nm to about 3600 nm have been found to provide the best drying effect, when drying and moisture reduction of the material is the primary purpose of the treatment. IR wavelengths effective for treating specific materials could be determined by a person skilled in the art in light of the present disclosure using no more than routine trial and experimentation.

[0070] In some embodiments, the source of infrared radiation may be configured to emit infrared radiation at a selectable frequency/wavelength. As would be appreciated, providing such functionality would even further improve the versatility of the apparatus of the present invention, as the IR could be tuned to best effect for any given material.

[0071] In some embodiments, irradiations in accordance with the present invention may be carried out using two (or more) different wavelengths, where each irradiation achieves a desired effect. For example, IR having a first wavelength may be effective to reduce the moisture content of a material such as grain seed whilst IR having a first wavelength may be effective to kill bacteria or other microbes or pests. [0072] The infrared radiation used in the present invention has an intensity that causes the desired effect on the particulate material. The inventors expect that IR intensities of from about 20 watts/cm 2 to as high as 5,000 watts/cm 2 would be effective in the present invention. Specific IR intensities trialled by the inventors range from about 20 watts/cm 2 to about 250 watts/cm 2 . In some embodiments, the source of infrared radiation may also be configured to emit infrared radiation at a selectable intensity, for benefits similar to those discussed above.

[0073] Factors such as the colour and size of the material will influence the wavelength (and intensity) chosen for a particular treatment, with routine trial end experimentation being used to establish the parameters required for a desired outcome.

[0074] The source(s) of IR may be configured to provide a constant source of IR, or may provide IR in a pulsed or flickering manner. In the later form, the pulse rate of the IR may be at any effective rate. Pulsing/flickering may be achieved either by individual sources of IR being pulsed or flickered, or by causing the material to flow over the surface in a manner whereby the same effect is achieved by an array of IR sources.

[0075] In embodiments where the member includes more than one source of infrared radiation, the IR sources may all be operated under the same conditions (or the banks/rows of the sources of IR operated under the same conditions) or each IR source may be operated independently of the others. In some embodiments, for example, it may be beneficial for the intensity of IR to which a material is exposed to gradually increase and then decrease whilst passing through the apparatus. Other variations in IR may produce beneficial treatments for particular materials (e.g. pulsing, as described above).

[0076] Further, if it would be advantageous to increase intensity from the IR emitters even further, a quartz lens of some sort (e.g. a dome) which will have the ability to narrow the energy source but at the same time magnify or increase its power intensity may be provided between the IR emitters and the material at varying distances. Such a configuration may be useful for achieving very high intensity, for example in the event that the method is intended to separate/melt metals such as gold mined rocks and minerals, etc. or separate/melt metals from other metals etc. Furthermore, independently to the above, such component placed between the emitters and the material could also act as a buffer or filter by altering intensity or even the wavelength.

[0077] The material may be irradiated with IR for as long or as short a time as is necessary to achieve the desired treatment. In light of the disclosure contained herein, it is within the ability of a person skilled in the art to determine an appropriate retention time, given a specific material, IR intensity and desired outcome, using no more than routine trials and experimentation. By way of example, retention times of between about 1 second to about 20 minutes, for example, between about 15 seconds to about 10 minutes are envisaged by the inventors.

[0078] In some embodiments of the apparatus of the first aspect, the surface for receiving particulate material may be defined by the inner surface of a cylinder. In some embodiments, the cylinder may be rotatable to agitate the particulate material on the surface. In some embodiments, an end of the cylinder may be raised in order to cause a continual movement of particles over the surface and through the cylinder. In some embodiments, the member may comprise a bridge that extends through the cylinder’s bore. The features of such embodiments will be described in further detail below. It is to be appreciated, however, that the generality of these features do not necessitate their use only in apparatuses having the more specific form described below.

[0079] For safety issues, detectors such as smoke detectors, dust detectors, opacity monitors, temperature monitors, moisture detectors, anemometers may also be incorporated into the apparatus.

[0080] In some cases, components of the apparatus (including the equipment used to advance or convey the material either into or out of the apparatus) may be heated or cooled to allow for preheating, post treatment heating, or post treatment cooling. In the case of post heating of the material, for example, it may result in an extended treatment or cooking period or maintain/hold a desired temperature for a desired period (e.g. for the advantageous reasons described above).

In the case of preheating the material, for example, it may be for the purpose of increasing the heating duration or increasing the efficiency of the process by raising the temperature of the material prior to introducing it into the apparatus, which reduces the time required to achieve the final desired material treatment. In the case of post cooling of the material, for example, it may be for the purpose of ceasing cooking, releasing heat energy, to meet desired treated material storage temperature, to change the density of the material or to encourage cracking or fissuring of the material.

[0081] In some cases, the conveying equipment may be proximal or internal to the apparatus, with the energy source used to pre-heat or post-heat being recycled from the IR energy source directly (e.g. via heat exchange with a liquid or gas used to cool the IR emitters) or indirectly (e.g. using convectional/conductional heat from within the apparatus). A portion or all of this recycled heat may also be used to pre-treat or post treat the material (e.g. to heat water/liquid for spraying onto a treated grain prior to flaking). [0082] In some cases, the apparatus may include a source of cold gas (e.g. air), which is directed onto the material being irradiated in order to minimise the convectional heat to which it is exposed. Such may be appropriate in circumstances where heat sensitive materials are being irradiated, with their surface temperature being maintained below a threshold value (e.g. 60°C) whilst they undergo irradiation.

[0083] A more specific form of the apparatus described above will now be described. This apparatus comprises: a rotatable cylinder having a bore and an inner surface that is configured to receive particulate material thereon; an elongate member comprising one or more sources of infrared radiation along a length thereof, the elongate member being configured to irradiate particulate material on the inner surface, wherein a position of the elongate member within the bore is adjustable to affect the infrared radiation that irradiates particulate maternal on the inner surface.

[0084] The elongate member would typically be the moveable component of this apparatus, this being a simpler configuration to engineer. In such embodiments therefore, the elongate member may be moveable closer towards and further away from the inner surface of the cylinder (and at relative angle thereto) and/or rotatable to achieve a similar effect in use to that described above. The elongate member may take any suitable form, including those described generally above and in the specific embodiments described below.

[0085] The elongate member may be located in the cylinder's bore, as will be described in further detail below. Such a configuration may result in a more efficient transfer of IR to the particulate material and therefore a faster and/or a more thorough treatment. However, physically exposing IR emitters to the particulate material may reduce the longevity of the emitters, and housing the member inside of a rotating cylinder may present engineering challenges.

[0086] In some embodiments, therefore, the elongate member may be located outside of the cylinder's bore, provided that it is still capable of achieving the functionality described above. For example, a cylinder formed from an IR transparent material such as a borosilicate glass would enable sources of IR located outside of the cylinder to irradiate particulate material inside the cylinder. Whilst irradiation through the cylinder's wall may not provide the intensity of IR achievable with IR emitters located inside of the cylinder, other advantages such as longevity of IR emitters and greater simplicity of the apparatus may nonetheless ensure the commercially viability of such apparatus. In some embodiments (e.g. those where a very high intensity of IR radiation is required), elongate members and/or IR emitters may be located both inside and outside of the cylinder.

[0087] The inner surface of the cylinder may be configured to receive particulate material thereat using any suitable mechanism. It may, for example, be sufficient for the cylinder to have a surface that is textured such that, upon rotation, the particulate material (which will itself have a surface texture that frictionally engages with the surface, at least to some extent) is caused to rise upwardly on the wall of the cylinder, before tumbling back down towards the bottom of the cylinder under action of gravity. In other embodiments, however, the inner surface of the cylinder may include protmsions configured to agitate the particulate material during rotation of the cylinder, resulting in a more turbulent mixing of the particles and hence a more even irradiation of the particles. Such agitators may be of any shape (e.g. rod shape rectangular, triangular, etc.) and may be either welded or otherwise fixed onto the cylinder or may be detachable. They may even be accompanied by springs on either end to allow for expansion and contraction where, in the event of expansion, the springs will tense them in order to stop them from sagging.

[0088] The interior of the cylinder (and any other components housed within the bore of the cylinder) may include IR reflective materials in order to even further increase the efficiency of the apparatus. In some embodiments, it is conceivable that the only IR absorbing matter in the cylinder is the particulate materials themselves.

[0089] The particulate materials may be advanced through the cylinder using any suitable mechanism. For example, the inner walls of the cylinder may comprise baffles which act to guide the particles from the inlet to the outlet of the cylinder. Alternatively, the apparatus may also include a lifter for raising an end of the cylinder whereby the particulate material is caused to move through the cylinder under action of gravity. As would be appreciated, the angle to which the end of the cylinder is lifted will affect the retention time of the particles within the chamber, and this is another parameter that may be measured in order to ensure that the particulate material receives the appropriate amount of irradiation. Other potential advancement mechanisms were described above in the context of the first aspect.

[0090] The inventors have found that use of such a rotary cylinder creates a more uniform product through mixing than may be possible in conventional treatments, primarily because of the number of presentations of the particles at all angles to the IR. The cylinder may be rotated at any rate effective to produce the necessary effect. It is envisaged that between about 1 and 500 revolutions (e.g. between about 10 and 500 revolutions) of the cylinder per minute will be effective.

[0091] The cylinder angle, the cylinder RPM, the material flow/feed rate and the operating conditions of any or all of the IR emitters may be altered based on feedback from the processed product. For example, at a set temperature of 100°C, if the irradiated material drops to 90°C then any or all of the four parameters noted above (for example) may be changed in order to bring the material back to its set point. Other adjustments may be made on the basis of moisture or colour feedback, for example.

[0092] The rotatable cylinder (or cylinders) may take any suitable form. In the simplest of embodiments, a single rotating tube is provided having a consistent cross sectional area from its inlet to its outlet. In other embodiments, however, rotatable cylinders having more complicated structures of configurations. For example, cylinders in the form of step or multiple step cylinders that increase in diameter may be provided in order to cause the material to undergo variations in irradiations by increasing the distance between the IR source and the material flow whilst simultaneously increasing the material's area spread as it drops into the second (larger diameter) cylinder. Such a configuration may also help in screening out dust or other particles upon entry into the larger diameter cylinder, whilst the bulk of the material continues to flow through the cylinder.

[0093] Perforated cylinders may also be provided, with perforations in the surface of the cylinder allowing particles below a certain size to fall through and hence exit the chamber/cylinder. An outside of the perforated cylinder may include a vacuum and/or an air knife system may be used to assist in removing unwanted particles. These particles may be present in the raw material or pre added (e.g. salts, sugars, spices other ingredients which must be extracted over a shorter retention time). Alternatively, no vacuum may be required, with these particles dropping by gravity through the perforations and onto a mechanical conveying system or even liquid flowing channel located between the perforated cylinder and an outer (larger) cylinder, for example. Such an outer larger cylinder may be fixed to the existing cylinder(s) and rotate with the same drive, or be separate (i.e. rotating with a different drive or be detached from the start cylinder or pre cylinders) and may be non-rotating (i.e. providing just a protective barrier or heat insulation).

[0094] Where perforations are present, they may be located at any position along the length of the cylinder(s) and may have a consistent size or may increase or decrease in size along the cylinder's length. [0095] In alternative forms, the cylinder may gradually increase or decrease in diameter, with or without perforations along all or a portion thereof.

[0096] As noted above, the cylinder may be configured to receive a follow of cold gas (e.g. air), which is directed onto the material being irradiated in order to cool it down following its irradiation and any contact with the surface of the cylinder. The cold gas may, for example, be directed onto the material when it is in a position within the cylinder where it is not directly being exposed to the IR radiation, thus cooling it down before its next irradiation. The so-cooled material can thus be maintained below a threshold temperature (within reason, given the conditions inside the cylinder) in order avoid undesirable damage.

[0097] In some embodiments, the rotating cylinder may itself be cooled (e.g. using an insulating jacket or the like) in order to prevent the build-up of excessive drum heat.

[0098] As also noted above, for safety issues, apparatuses such as smoke detectors, dust detectors, opacity monitors, temperature monitors, moisture detectors, anemometers may also be incorporated either monitoring both ends of the cylinder(s) or internally. An air flow system for venting gaseous fumes and/or floating particulates from the cylinder may also be provided.

[0099] The rotary cylinder and everything within the rotary cylinder (e.g. an IR module and its emitters) may be fully enclosed and sealed so that the atmospheric pressure within the cylinder may be different to that on the outside environment. Such would enable the material to be processed (either by batch or continuously) at a lower or higher pressure if required. The fundamental benefits of this will be due to the water vapour pressure within the material increasing or decreasing at different treatment temperatures. For example, if the cylinder's internal pressure is lowered, the boiling point of water will lower and the internal vapour pressure of a micro-organism will reach lethal pressure levels and its enzymes/proteins denatured at a much lower overall heating temperature than would otherwise be the case. Thus, when microorganisms in low temperature tolerant materials need to be killed, for example, the internal vapour pressure of a micro-organism will reach lethal pressure levels and its enzymes/proteins denatured at a much lower overall heating temperature, which will significantly reduce the risk of heat damage to the material being processed.

[0100] In some embodiments, fabricated end caps and/or seals may be used to maintain the heat and material within the cylinder. Even if the cylinder's ends cannot be fully closed due to the other components, this may prevent particles from exiting the cylinder prematurely, for example if the machine is placed in a semi open environment such as in a bam area, which could be subject to gusts of wind. If the apparatus is heating up material and the material happens to ignite for any reason (in which case the apparatus will be alerted by a smoke detector and will undergo its set procedure such as shut down), any gust of wind may force embers to spread outside the chamber which may cause a fire.

[0101] Therefore, to eliminate the dangers of escaping embers, to minimise heat loss etc., whilst at the same time allowing for smoke and/or dust to exit (or be vacuumed away by an external exhaust system), flexible screens (e.g. fire mesh) may be placed on all openings. The mesh used may, for example, be fine stainless-steel woven wire mesh with openings varying from 5mm down to 0.063mm (63 microns). The flexibility as such will also allow the movement and adjustability of the other components of the apparatuses (e.g. the bridge, conveyers, feeders, etc.).

[0102] The present invention also provides methods and processes which utilise the apparatuses described above. Although the present invention was developed in the context of treating particulate food products by irradiating them, any material (particularly particulate materials, which can generally be classified as flowable substances), some of which are noted above, may be irradiated in the apparatus.

[0103] Particulate food products may be irradiated for any beneficial purpose. Particulate food products such as grains (etc.) may, for example, be treated to achieve an increased starch availability (and hence be more easily digestible) or an increased germination rate, or treated to devitalise, de-germinate, pasteurise, sterilise, or reduce a microbial load of the product, or to reduce a load of infecting organisms or weed species. Grains may also be treated in increase their ability to ferment in order to produce alcohol more efficiently.

[0104] Other materials may be irradiated to achieve one or more of the following benefits: increased nutritional value or functionality, pasteurisation, sterilisation, dehydration or drying, volume reduction, deodorising, for reducing microbial load or for reducing the load of infecting organisms.

[0105] In one particular application, the method of the present invention is used to improve the digestibility of grains for an animal, where such method comprises irradiating the grain in the apparatus described herein under conditions whereby starch in the grain is caused to gelatinise. Grain in which the starch has been gelatinised is easier for animals such as cows and horses to digest, which enables them to access the nutritional benefits provided by the grain, but without the digestion issues which can occur if untreated grain is eaten.

[0106] As described above, the unique configuration of the apparatuses of the present invention enables such a method to be much more efficiently performed, and with apparatus having a much smaller footprint. Indeed, the inventors have found that the specific embodiments described below can be used to produce grains having the same degree of gelatinisation as those produced conventionally, but which can be completed in about 1/6 of the IR exposure time.

[0107] In some embodiments, the grain may also be exposed to convection heating, steam or a liquid during irradiation. The provision of these conditions may be beneficial in some treatment regimens.

[0108] In some embodiments, one pass through the apparatus may be all that is required to achieve a beneficial outcome. In other embodiments, however, double or triple passes through the apparatus, optionally with different set parameters being used, may be beneficial. For example, a material may initially be irradiated to soften its coating, after which an ingredient is applied or spraying on the material, whereupon it is again irradiated, either with the same process parameters or different process parameters in order to heat fix the ingredient.

[0109] The methods of the present invention would typically also involve monitoring one or more properties of the irradiated grain (or other irradiated material), with these properties being used to control the conditions in the apparatus. Such a feedback loop enables the production of goods having a very consistent quality. Properties of the irradiated grain which may be monitored include its temperature and weight. The rate of flow of the irradiated grain may also be measured, in order to ensure an appropriate retention time within the cylinder. Monitoring devices may be incorporated before treatment with IR, during treatment with IR post-treatment with IR or combined. Other devices such as cameras may be used to monitor the process macroscopically, once again within the chamber or externally or combined.

[0110] In some embodiments, the methods may include one or more beneficial pre-irradiation steps. For example, the grain may be mixed with a liquid pre-irradiation to increase a moisture content of the grain. Upon irradiation, the additional water in the grain may cause the grain to be more quickly heated or its starch more effectively gelatinised.

[0111] In some embodiments, the methods may include one or more beneficial post-irradiation steps. For example, the grain may be rolled or flaked post-irradiation, as such may further gelatinise the starch and enhance the digestibility and nutritional value of the resultant animal feed.

[0112] Pre- or post- irradiation, the particulate material (e.g. grain) may be conveyed along the outside surface of the cylinder for the purpose of pre-heating the grain or maintaining a temperature of the grain post-treatment in order to maintain cooking. [0113] Specific applications of the present invention that have been utilised by the inventors include the following.

Organic waste and recycling section

[0114] The apparatus described below has been used to dry, sterilise and deodorise organic waste products, including sludge waste with moisture levels as high as 90%.

[0115] The inventors found that products such as waste fruit and vegetables, manure waste and biosolids/sludge from waste water treatment plants could be treated and stabilised to the highest standards with end moisture content as low as 0% with a single pass through the infrared processor. This reduces handling time and costs, is friendly to the environment and safer for the general public than many conventional recycling processes with the management of organic waste containing high moisture, odour and microbial levels.

[0116] Furthermore, organic waste products treated in this manner can often be recycled and put to further use. For instance, biosolids from waste water treatment plants can be recycled to a (class A) fertiliser, or combustible fuel (biomass) or even a useful by-product for various industries. Waste fruit and vegetables could be treated and recycled into nutritional stock feed. Waste manure could be treated and recycled into rich organic fertiliser.

Drying & Dehydrating

[0117] As noted above, the penetration characteristics of infrared radiation, combined with the inventors' unique apparatus, provide a balance between surface and body heating of a materials, and one which is reached in a very short time, compared to conventional heating. This enables optimal drying results with unmatched time and cost savings. Indeed, the apparatus described below can be operated to dehydrate while simultaneously sterilising and deodorising organic waste such as biosolids (sludge) to class A levels. Further, because of the low treatment temperatures during the drying process, harmful pollutants or odours are not extracted into the environment, making the processors ideal treatment facilities for use in suburban and residential areas without the cost of sophisticated and expensive pollution filters. The apparatus can be operated at relatively low temperatures, and in a continuous single pass drying mode with retention time of less than 10 minutes. Sludge waste with moisture levels as high as 90% can be successfully reduced to any desired moisture level, even as low as 0% moisture with the final end product being 2mm to 4mm dust free granules.

[0118] Advantageously, electric infrared radiation provides for high heat transfer capacity, heat penetration directly into the products constituent molecules with fast regulation response, with no need to pre-heat the drying chamber for long periods of time. Disinfesting & Sterilising

[0119] The apparatus described below has also been used to eliminate bacterial contamination present in untreated waste products. This would eliminate the spread of bacterial contamination from potential disease carrying vectors such as flies, mosquitoes, rodents etc., and protect farmlands, grazing fields, suburban areas, food storage facilities, playgrounds, schools and hospitals from vector contamination.

[0120] The present invention can be used to permanently destroy the active enzymes of all living organisms by lethal and rapid pressure build-up within the organisms. This is influenced by rapid increase in internal water vapour pressure with non-ionising infrared radiation targeting and penetrating constituent water molecules deep within the cell walls of living organisms. As such, all living organisms such as insects including their larvae and eggs, bacteria, fungus, parasites and viruses are destroyed, with enzymes being permanently inactivated and denatured.

Deodorising

[0121] The present invention can be used to destroy all living organisms and permanently inactivate and denature their enzymes. Organic waste becomes a stable, odourless product, which will also stop vectors being attracted to it, so the chance of recontamination will significantly decrease. Organic waste treated as such may qualify as a class A fertiliser, creating the potential for revenue from once a hazardous waste product.

Seed de- germination

[0122] The present invention can be used to de-germinate and devitalize seeds and weeds, which will eliminate growth of unwanted weeds or plants if applied as fertiliser for particular cultivation. For example, organic waste being processed for reuse as fertiliser for use as a raw material in an industrial process would greatly benefit from a guarantee that no unwanted weeds or plants in the material were viable.

Enzyme inactivation

[0123] The present invention can be used to inactivate, denature and destroy pathogenic enzymes which could be present in organic waste products . Pathogenic enzymes or proteinaceous infectious particles could cause a range of serious diseases and if present in untreated waste, could create a serious public health risk. The present invention can enable the successful denature and inactivation of harmful enzymes in just minutes, potentially enabling its beneficial re-use. Volume and weight reduction

[0124] The present invention can also be used to reduce the weight and volume of a material waste (especially an organic waste), thereby reducing handling, transportation and disposal costs. Indeed, the inventors have found that sludge weight reduction following drying procedures in accordance with embodiments of the present invention could reduce the initial weight down to 1/10 in.

[0125] Furthermore, the granules created have been found to have a relatively small volume per weight ratio, which is important when it comes to transporting large quantities of treated material over long distances. In a specific embodiment performed by the inventors, for example, approximately a treated material having a density of 700kg to the cubic meter when reduced to 12% moisture, was obtained from a material having an original volume of 4.1 cubic meters weighing 4106 kg at 85% moisture). In this case, the moisture level was reduced from 85% to 12%, resulting in a reduction in weight from 4106kg to only 700kg and a reduction in volume of from 4.1 cubic meters to 1 cubic meter.

Increasing seed vigour/germination rate

[0126] When operated under appropriate conditions (described below), the inventors surprisingly found that relatively low amounts of IR irradiation could be used to increase the germination rate of seeds. Seed vigour/germination rate is the sum total of those properties of the seed which determine the level of activity and performance of the seed during germination and seedling emergence. That is, the properties which determine the potential for rapid, uniform emergence and development of normal seedlings under a wide range of field conditions.

[0127] Specific embodiments of the present invention will be described below with reference to the accompanying Figures.

[0128] Referring firstly to Figure 1, a general embodiment of a method for treating a particulate material in the form of grain (e.g. oats or barley) in accordance with the present invention in order to increase its starch availability is shown in the form of a flow diagram. The method may either be continuously operated in a flow through manner, or may involve batch treatment of the grain. In some forms, the method may utilise a combination of continuous and batch treatments, where such might provide advantages.

[0129] In a first step, a quantity of grain contained in bulk storage 10 is conveyed via a grain pre-cleaner 12 into a tempering or buffer silo 14, where the grain is mixed with a liquid in order to increase its moisture content. [0130] In a second step, the grain is transferred from buffer silo 14 into a guide hopper, which acts as a funnel system to direct the grain into a feeding or conveying system to move it through to the next step of the process. The feeding or conveying may be performed using any suitable technique, including via gravitational feed, a vibratory feeder, belt conveyor, screw conveyor, chain conveyor, bucket conveyor, pressurised air, rotary paddle conveyor, or open and closed valve using either pressure or gravity or vacuum or vacuum or venturi apparatuses.

[0131] In a third step, the grain enters a rotary irradiation chamber 16, where it is exposed to infrared light. The irradiation chamber 16 may or may not include lifters (described below) which are attached to the inside surface of the chamber and which cause mixing or agitation of the grain during its exposure to infrared light. The chamber 16 rotates at a set speed, which may vary from 1 revolution per minute to 500 revolutions per minute. The chamber construction may be of metallic, crystalline, ceramic, silicate based glass (e.g. borosilicate glass), quartz glass and other hardened and IR transparent materials, or other suitable materials.

[0132] Inside the irradiation chamber 16, the grain is irradiated with infrared light. The infrared light emitters are mounted onto a member (described below) that allows for the infrared light source to be swivelled or directionally changed and be set at a fixed or variable distance and angle from the grain on the inside surface of the chamber. The distance between the infrared light emitters and the grain may range from 1 millimetre up to 400 millimetres. The infrared light can be directed toward the grain in an arc ranging from 1 degree to 359 degrees.

[0133] The member may be physically located inside the chamber 16 or, where the chamber is IR transparent, located outside of the chamber. The member on which the IR emitters are mounted may include a cooling system for cooling the member in order to reduce potential expansion and warping due heat. The cooling system may use air, gas or liquid in a cooling loop arrangement or in a single pass through arrangement where the air, gas or liquid is either disposed of or beneficially reused. The inventors note that such a cooling system might not be required if the member is formed from materials that have low thermal and expansion contraction properties, e.g. certain composite materials, ceramics and alloys. For example, the quartz bridge described below with reference to Figures 8 and 9 does not absorb IR and will therefore not appreciably heat up during operation.

[0134] The member having the infrared light emitters may or may not include a reflective surface which may influence the arc of light emitted for the purpose of directing the IR to a specific area in the chamber 16. The IR is produced using electricity to power the IR emitters. The IR emitters may be in the form of a single tube or multiple tubes that can be operated individually or in combination with one or more other emitters. Emitters used may be made of ceramic, quartz, silicate, or metallic outer construction.

[0135] The irradiation chamber 16 may include as few as one emitter or many hundreds of emitters of equal or varying lengths and widths. Emitters may be incorporated either in parallel to the chamber 16 or perpendicular to the chamber or both parallel and perpendicular in multiple rows/zones. The distance of emitters between emitters between all or chosen rows/zones may vary between about 1mm and 200mm. All or chosen emitters may operate in the same power intensity or may vary in power intensity. All or chosen emitters may operate in the same wavelength or may vary in wavelength. All or chosen emitters my function in a constant light source or in a pulsing or flickering light source in equal or varying time rates. All emitters may be of equal distance to the grain or may vary in distance.

[0136] The infrared light may have a wavelength anywhere in the IR spectrum, and preferably ranging from about 700 nanometres to about 4 micrometres. The light intensity may range from 20 watts/square centimetre to as high as 5,000 watts/square centimetre (although a maximum intensity closer to about 250 watts/square centimetre may be more appropriate for treating grains). The grain may be exposed to infrared light for between 1 second and 20 minutes (e.g. between 1 second and 10 minutes). Factors such as the colour and size of the material/grain will influence the wavelength and intensity chosen for a particular treatment, with routine trial end experimentation being used to establish the parameters required for a desired outcome.

[0137] The rotary irradiation chamber 16 may perform functions in addition to the IR irradiation described above. For example, recycled energy in the form of hot air (e.g. having a temperature between about 60°C and about 200°C) may be blown into the rotary chamber whilst the grain is being irradiated. The hot air may instead (or additionally) be blown onto the grain during treatment pre-irradiation (i.e. before reaching chamber 16) or may be blown onto the irradiated grain (e.g. during post rolling, as described below). The hot air may be obtained via heat exchange from other components used in the method.

[0138] Alternatively (or in addition), recycled energy in the form of hot water or oil (having a temperature between about 20°C and 180°C, and which may have been obtained via heat exchange as described above) may be applied into the rotary chamber 16 or may be applied onto the grain as pre- treatment or may be applied onto the grain during post chamber treatment or may be applied onto the grain during post-irradiation rolling.

[0139] Alternatively (or in addition), recycled energy in the form of steam generated in the method may be applied into the rotary chamber 16 or may be applied onto the grain as pre- treatment or may be applied to the grain during a pre- or post-irradiation treatment (e.g. during post-irradiation rolling).

[0140] In the next step, after irradiation in the rotary chamber 16 is completed, the grain is caused to fall out of the chamber (or is otherwise collected) and is conveyed away from the chamber. Completion of irradiation is indicated by the temperature, the density, the weight, the size or the flow of the grain leaving the rotary chamber 16. Such parameters can be determined for grains produced under the same conditions and which have been empirically determined to have achieved the necessary treatment.

[0141] Post-irradiation, the grain may additionally be treated to add moisture in the form of water or oil (or other liquid) for the purpose of increasing its calorific or nutritional value or its moisture content. Other additives in the form of additional vitamins, minerals or nutrients may also be added at this stage.

[0142] The grain may additionally be rolled into a flaked product using a roller or flaking mill 18, in order to even further increase its digestibility or for other benefits. The roller or flaking mill may have one or more rollers and the rollers may have any of various roller corrugation patters or may be smooth with no corrugation. The rollers may be of metallic, ceramic, carbon fibre, high temperature resin or stone construction.

[0143] Finally, the thus-treated grain 20 is gathered and conveyed to a storage unit or space for use as feed, or mixing into a ration, or stored for future feeding or be stored or conveyed for further processing.

[0144] The treatment described above is effective to increase the starch availability of the grain, making it more easily digestible by animals such as cows and horses. The inventors note that this method results in the production of vendible grains of comparable or better quality to those of commercially-available micronised grains, but more quickly and in a more energy efficient manner.

[0145] Other treatments envisaged by the inventors, in the context of the product being a food product, include devitalisation, de-germinating or other rendering of grains, nuts, pulses, legumes or seeds unable to germinate into a new plant. Treatment may also be performed for the purpose of reducing microbiological load, pasteurising, sterilising or for reducing the load of infesting organisms or weed species.

[0146] Referring now to Figures 2 to 7, an embodiment of the apparatus of the present invention will be described. The apparatus described below may, for example, be the rotary irradiation chamber 16 described generally above with reference to Figure 1. Irradiation chamber 16 (see Figure 4) includes a rotatable cylinder in the form of rotating drum 22, the inner surface of which includes a number of protrusions in the form of lifters 24. Lifters 24 are roughly evenly spaced around the inside wall of the dmm 22 and their purpose will be described below.

[0147] A sprocket 26 extends around an outer surface of drum 22 at either end thereof (only one sprocket 26 is shown in the Figures for clarity). Each socket 26 cooperates with a corresponding roller 28 located on an upper surface of top platform 30 (see Figure 4) of chamber 16, such that rotation of rollers 28, 28 (using a motor, not shown) causes the drum 22 to rotate in the manner described below.

[0148] Referring now to Figure 4, shown is the irradiation chamber 16 substantially in its entirety. Rotating drum 22 is located on top platform 30, which is itself located on a base 32 and is pivotable about a downstream edge 34 upon actuation of a lifting piston 36. Actuating the piston 36 raises one end of drum 22 such that its inner surface is at an angle 38, which causes flowable substances introduced into the drum 22 to tend to pass through the drum 22 under the action of gravity. Adjusting the angle of the drum 22 from the horizontal will thus directly affect the retention time of particulate material in the drum. It is envisaged that angles of up to about 20 degrees would be effective.

[0149] The irradiation chamber 16 also includes a grain feeder 40, via which grain 42 may be introduced into the drum 22 for irradiation. Irradiated grain 44 exits the drum 22 at its downstream (lower) end, where it is collected for storage or further processing, as described above for example.

[0150] Referring now to Figure 5, shown is a cross sectional illustrative drawing of the drum 22 of the irradiation chamber 16 in use. In this Figure, drum 22 is rotating in an anti-clockwise direction, so grain 43 inside the drum is being carried up the wall on the right hand side of the drum due to the lifters 24. Once the grain 43 reaches a certain height up the wall of the drum 22, however, gravity causes it to fall back down. This tumbling of the grain 43 results in an extremely effective mixing of the grain and hence an effective irradiation.

[0151] A bridge 46 is positioned within the bore 23 of the drum 22, where it does not interfere with the drum's rotation. A number of IR emitters, shown generally at 48, are mounted on an underside of the bridge 46, where the IR they emit is directed to the sidewall of the drum 22 on which the grain 43 gathers when the drum is rotated. The bridge 48 has a number of degrees of movement within the bore 23 of the drum 22, both in the X-Y plane (i.e. left and right, up and down in the Figure) and rotationally (i.e. clockwise and anticlockwise in the Figure). The bridge 46 can therefore be moved within the bore 23 to position the IR emitters 48 relative to the grain 43 is practically any desired configuration. As can be seen in Figure 5, for example, the IR emitters 48 are in close proximity to the tumbling grain 43 and directly facing the grain, which would result in a relatively high intensity of IR reaching the grain. Such a configuration may be beneficial, for example, if the grain 43 needs to be rapidly heated and if a short residence time in the drum 22 is envisaged.

[0152] Referring now to Figure 6, the bridge 48 is shown in closer detail, with the emitter mountings 50 being shown. Also shown are a plurality of tubes 52, through which air and/or liquid can flow through the length of the bridge 46 in order to heat or cool the structure (e.g. to heat the inside of the drum 22 or to keep the bridge cool during operation in order to prevent heat-caused distortions). The arrows shown in Figure 6 illustrate the rotation of bridge 46.

[0153] Referring next to Figure 7, a side view of bridge 46 is shown (for clarity purposes the bridge is shown independent of drum 22). The body portion 54 of bridge 46 has a length consistent with the length of the tube 22 (a little shorter) so that all of the IP emitters 48 are wholly contained within tube 22 in operation. Bridge 46 has an upstream end 56 and a downstream end 58, both of which have a neck portion 60, 60 which are used to support and hold the bridge and perform the bridge manipulations described above. The bridge also includes an expansion and contraction apparatus 62, which allows the bridge to expand and contract when heated or cooled in order to avoid the risk of damage caused by restrained expansion. The upstream end of the bridge also includes bridge holding/locking apparatus 64, which can be actuated to operate the bridge 46 in the manner described herein.

Experiment 1 - Germination

[0154] The apparatus described above was used to irradiate a number of batches of grains in order to assess the effect of irradiation on the grain's germination. Grains were irradiated for 40 seconds with IR having a wavelength of between 900 and 1300nm (depending on the colour and size of the grains) and under conditions effective to result in a peak temperature of 75°C. The IR emitters were orientated directly onto the grain, to ensure that no hot plating occurred, which might scorch the grains. The results of these experiments are set out below.

Sorghum (untreated) Sorghum (treated)

Sunflower (untreated)

Sunflower (treated)

[0155] These results clearly show that irradiation of sorghum and sunflower seeds in accordance with embodiments of the present invention is effective to de-germinate the seeds.

Experiment 2- Starch Availability

[0156] The apparatus described above was used to irradiate a number of batches of grains in order to assess its effect on the starch availability of the irradiated grain. Grains underwent a pre-treatment tempering with the addition of water (up to about 22% moisture) and then were pre-heated from 20°C to 70°C before being irradiated for about 120 seconds with IR having a wavelength of between 900 and 1300nm (depending on the colour and size of the grains) and under conditions effective to result in a peak temperature of over 100°C. After this, the grain is sprayed with hot water upon exiting the cylinder to further soften and is then rolled into a flake.

[0157] These results clearly show that irradiation of barley and sorghum seeds in accordance with embodiments of the present invention is effective to significantly increase the seeds' starch availability. Barley (untreated)

Barley (treated)

Sorghum (untreated) Sorghum (treated)

[0158] Further experiments recently conducted by the inventors (data not shown) have found that pre-moisturising the grain (also known as tempering the grain) pre-irradiation can result in an even greater increase in starch availability.

Experiment 3- Treatment to destroy microbes

[0159] The apparatus described above was used to irradiate a number of batches of soyabean seeds in order to assess the effect of irradiation on the microbial content of the grain. Grains were irradiated with IR having a wavelength of between 900 and 1300nm (depending on the colour and size of the grains) for the specified retention time and under conditions effective to result in the specified peak temperature. The IR emitters were orientated directly onto the grain, to ensure that no hot plating occurred, which might scorch the grains. The results of these experiments are set out below.

[0160] As a control, soyabean seeds not treated were found by Total Aerobic Plate Count analysis to have a CFU/g [Colony Forming Units (microbes) per gram] of up to 95,333. In the subsequent experiments, the seeds were irradiated under conditions expected to reduce the CFU/g to 500 or less, but where the seeds' temperature did not exceed 70°C with a 20 seconds retention time, as this would be likely to detrimentally affect the germination ability of the seed. [0161] The inventors expect that a treatment temperature of 69°C and retention time of 19 seconds would have drastically reduced the CFU/g from 160 to an even lower level. It is also noted that if maintaining germination of the seed was not an issue, an increased temperature to 70°C or 75°C and retention time to 45 - 60 seconds would most probably see the microbial level fall to zero.

Experiment 4- Treatment to improve soyabean seed germination

[0162] The apparatus described above was used to irradiate a number of batches of soyabean seeds in order to assess the effect of irradiation on the germination rate of the grain. Grains were irradiated with IR having a wavelength of between 900 and 1300nm (depending on the colour and size of the grains) for the specified retention time and under conditions effective to result in the specified peak temperature. The IR emitters were orientated directly onto the grain, to ensure that no hot plating occurred, which might scorch the grains. The results of these experiments are set out below.

[0163] As a control, batch 1 of the soyabean seeds were not treated, whilst batches 2, 3 and 4 of the soyabean seeds were irradiated for 13 seconds and under conditions effective to result in a peak temperature of 50°C, 57°C and 65°C, respectively. The % Vigour and % Germination of these batches are shown in the tables set out below. [0164] As can be seen, after 8 days there was only an 82% germination rate for the control, with 18% abnormal seeds (this means that 18% of the seeds purchased by the farmer is non-viable and money gone to waste and which also means 18% of the allocated land for crop growing has also gone to waste). The vigour rate after 8 days is seen to be 81%. Seed vigour is the sum total of those properties of the seed which determine the level of activity and performance of the seed or seed lot during germination and seedling emergence. In other words, the properties, which determine the potential for rapid, uniform emergence and development of normal seedlings under a wide range of field conditions.

[0165] Batches 2, 3 and 4 are the seeds processed in accordance with the present invention to increase seed germination (whilst at the same time to decontaminate or reduce the microbial load, see Example 3).

[0166] Batch 2 was treated to achieve a peak temperature of 50°C in a retention time of 13 seconds. An increase in the germination rate of from 82% to 90% (and a corresponding decrease in abnormal seed count from 18% to 10%) is observed in 8 days. The vigour also increased in its initial acceleration from 64% to 73% within the first 5 days, meaning a better chance of survival at the start of crop season.

[0167] Batch 3 was treated to achieve a peak temperature of 57°C in a retention time of 13 seconds and batch 4 to achieve a peak temperature of 65°C in a retention time of 13 seconds. Again, an increase in both the rate of germination and vigour (and corresponding reduction in abnormal seeds) is observed.

[0168] These experimental data clearly demonstrate benefits of IR irradiation of seeds, in regards to increasing the seeds' ability to germinate and its vigour, both of which have the potential to liven up and strengthen the seed for a better crop yield.

[0169] Referring now to Figures 8 and 9, shown is a member comprising sources of IR for use in an apparatus in accordance with an embodiment of the invention, the member being in the form of a quartz cassette 100. Cassette 100 would be machined from a block of quartz and either define the bridge for use in rotary drum 22 (for example, it will be appreciated that such a cassette could be used in other configurations of apparatuses in accordance with the present invention). Alternatively, cassette 100 could be mounted onto an underside of a bridge similar to that described above, where it can be maneuvered into an appropriate position to irradiate material. As quartz is transparent to IR, it will not heat up as the invention is being performed and cassette 100 therefore does not require a heating and/or cooling system of the type described above. Use of cassette 100 may therefore significantly simplify the apparatus. [0170] IR emitters in the form of single or double tube emitters 102 may be placed into grooves, shown generally as groove 104 on an underside of the cassette 100. As can be seen, cassette 100 will hold a large number of emitters 102, and can readily be adapted to do so with any direction and spacing of the emitters. Further, as the cassette 100 and emitters 102 may be formed from the same material, issues arising due to the use of different materials will not occur and durability should be enhanced.

[0171] As the cassette 100 is transparent to IR, it will not reflect the IR emitted by emitters 102 and the grooves 104 would therefore include a reflector component, shown generally as reflector 106 in the Figures. The reflector 106 would be adhered or etched on the inside of the grooves 104, and cause substantially all of the emitted IR to be directed onto the material undergoing irradiation.

[0172] Referring now to Figure 10, shown is an apparatus 200 in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention. Apparatus 200 includes three concentric cylinders 202, 204 and 206, which are, in the depicted embodiment, attached to one another such that actuation of cylinder driver 208 rotates all three cylinders at the same RPM. In alternative embodiments (not shown), each cylinder 202, 204 and 206 may be driven by independently operable drivers such that the cylinders can be rotated at different speeds.

[0173] Apparatus 200 includes an IR source in the form of a bridge 210 shown positioned at the axis of the cylinders and which is moveable in the manner described above. In use, a material 212 is caused to move through each respective cylinder 202, 204 and 206 through the apparatus. As the material 212 flows from cylinder 202 to cylinder 204, it moves further away from the IR source 210 and, due to the larger diameter of cylinder 204, the material becomes more spread out over the inner surface of the cylinder, thereby presenting differently to the incident IR. In this manner, the material 212 is exposed to three different intensities of IR as is travels through the apparatus 200.

[0174] Referring now to Figure 11, shown is an apparatus 300 in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention. Apparatus 300 includes a single cylinder 302 which is driven by cylinder driver 304. An IR source in the form of a bridge 306 is shown positioned offset to the axis of the cylinder 302 and is moveable in the manner described above. Apparatus 300 also includes a material hopper 308 for holding the material to be irradiated as well as a preheating conveyor 310 that is also positioned inside the rotating cylinder 302.

[0175] Conduits (described below) are provided throughout apparatus 300 in order to enable water (or another cooling or heat exchange liquid, which may require further pre-heating, filtration or chemical additives) to flow through apparatus 300 in the manner described below. The IR source 306 generates heat in use and a flow of coolant may be used to prevent too much heat from building up. In this regard, cool water (for example) may be directed into the IR source 306 at inlet A and this will heat up as it passes therethrough. Once it exits the IR source 306, the hot water is redirected by conduit B into the pre -heating conveyor 310. Heat exchangers (not shown) are provided in the conveyor 310 and the conveyor therefore heats up (the conveyor would also be heated due to it being within the cylinder) whilst the water cools down. The cooled water can then exit the system via conduit C, possibly for use in a further beneficial application (e.g. as an additive to the treated material, e.g. when treating grain for gelatinising starches such a liquid will help in post-conditioning the grain), or be recirculated back into the IR source 306 via conduit D.

[0176] In use, a material 312 stored in hopper 308 is released onto conveyor 310, whereupon it is caused to move inside of cylinder 302 and is pre -heated due to the retained heat in conveyor 310 (and the heat generated by the process). When it reaches the end of the conveyor 310 (i.e. after travelling along the whole length of the cylinder 302), the material 312 drops onto the inner surface of the cylinder 302, where it is fully exposed to the IR as it travels along the cylinder back to the other end and finally out of the cylinder. In this manner, a preheated material is provided using only energy generated within the system. It should be noted that a second (and third etc.) pre -heating conveyer may be added if desired.

[0177] Referring now to Figure 12, shown is an apparatus 400 in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention. Apparatus 400 includes a single cylinder 402 which is driven by cylinder driver 404. Cylinder 402 has first and second portions 402A and 402B, with portion 402B including an array of perforations, shown generally as 406, in the cylinder’s walls. An outer cylinder 408 encloses cylinder portion 402B and a vacuum 410 is provided in outer cylinder 408. An IR source in the form of a bridge 412 is shown positioned at the axis of the cylinder 402 and is moveable in the manner described above.

[0178] In use, a flow of particulate material 414 passes through cylinder portion 402A and is irradiated in the usual manner. When the material 414 reaches cylinder portion 402B, however, smaller particles either fall through the perforations 404 and into the outer cylinder 408 or are drawn into the outer cylinder 408 due to the vacuum. In this manner, smaller particles tend to exit the cylinder 402 more quickly than larger particles which cannot physically pass through the perforations 404 and therefore must travel the full length of the cylinder 402 and hence have a longer exposure time. Particulate materials 414 having uneven size distributions can thus be treated with apparatus 400 without risk of over irradiating smaller particles or under- irradiating larger particles.

[0179] Referring now to Figure 13, shown is variation to the configuration of apparatus 400. In Figure 13, the apparatus 400 also includes an air knife 416 inside cylinder portion 402B. The air knife 416 can be operated to separate finer materials (e.g. grain husks etc.) from the bulk particulate material in order to provide for a cleaner product.

[0180] In alternative embodiments (not shown), the vacuum system may be incorporated either on the outer section of the perforated cylinder or the inner section or both outer and inner. Similarly, the air knife may be incorporated either on the outer or inner or both section of the perforated cylinder.

[0181] Both the vacuum system and air knife can be as long as required, in other words they may only be incorporated in the distance of the perforated cylinder or they may even be extended in length throughout the entire cylinder/chamber including the not perforated section.

[0182] Referring finally to Figure 14, shown is an apparatus having a minor variation in the configuration of the apparatus of Figure 13, where the material will fist go through the perforated cylinder and then the closed cylinder (see direction of flow of material).

[0183] It will be appreciated that the present invention provides a number of new and useful advantages. For example, specific embodiments of the present invention may provide one or more of the following advantages:

• a great diversity of particulate materials may be irradiated in the apparatus, for a great diversity of purposes;

• grain can be processed to improve its digestibility for animals in a much shorter time than is required by conventional processes;

• grain can be processed to improve its ability to ferment to produce alcohol;

• grains, nuts and pulses can be processed to remove their ability to later germinate, as well as to remove disease causing insects (and their eggs) and disease producing microbes, enabling the treated products to be transported internationally and

• the apparatus has a significantly smaller footprint and can be operated more efficiently than conventional heating apparatus, providing numerous process efficiencies. [0184] It will be understood to persons skilled in the art of the invention that many modifications may be made without departing from the spirit and scope of the invention. All such modifications are intended to fall within the scope of the following claims.

[0185] In the claims which follow and in the preceding description of the invention, except where the context requires otherwise due to express language or necessary implication, the word “comprise” or variations such as “comprises” or “comprising” is used in an inclusive sense, i.e. to specify the presence of the stated features but not to preclude the presence or addition of further features in various embodiments of the invention.