Rankin is professor and chair of food science at UW–Madison with an interest in the dairy food processing industry. His research has focused on the characterization of primarily dairy food flavor with sensory and instrumental techniques.
Acid whey is a byproduct of the dairy industry, generated primarily during the production of Greek yogurt and acid-coagulated cheese. Acid whey poses unique challenges for processing due to its high acidity and low protein content. Its environmental impact is significant and often requires special handling and disposal methods. Rankin’s lab has developed a bench-scale, patent-pending technology to convert acid whey into value-added food ingredients, including glucose-galactose syrup (GGS), tagatose, and a calcium supplement; however, the lack of a lactose reactor hinders scaling up the process. Moreover, there is a lack of a techno-economic model to evaluate the market potential of the technology to be implemented by food processors. The objective of this project is to design and operate the world’s first catalyst-driven lactose reactor to enhance the value of acid whey in the newly renovated Dairy Plant at Babcock Hall. The pilot-scale reactor will be integrated with the existing membrane filtration units, to produce approximately 100 liters of glucose-galactose syrup per day for food applications. In addition, this project will conduct a techno-economic analysis (TEA) and Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) to evaluate the economic feasibility and environmental impact of this new process and communicate the results with stakeholders. The tangible outcomes from this project include (1) reducing the negative environmental impact including reduced soil contamination and improved water quality, (2) increasing profitability for cheese and yogurt producers, (3) compliance with regulations related to waste disposal, (4) enhancing the public perception of the dairy industry’s sustainability effort, which can ultimately lead to increased sales and customer loyalty.