Whey more productive: Student publishes in high-impact journal, wins award

Posted: September 6, 2022

Doctoral student Ashin Antony Sunny, whose goal is to establish a presence in the research community through innovations that would benefit industry and society, has made a good start.

In December 2020 as a member of Professor L.-S. Fan's laboratory, he won first prize in the Indian Institute of Chemical Engineers' (IIChE) competition, "Best Research Paper Published in a High-Impact Factor International Journal by an Undergraduate Chemical Engineering Student."

The paper, titled "Ultrasound assisted ultrafiltration of whey using dual frequency ultrasound for intensified recovery of lactose," appeared in 2019's Volume 142 of Chemical Engineering and Processing - Process Intensification. Ashin was an undergraduate at the Institute of Chemical Technology (ICT) in Mumbai, India at the time, and was selected for the honor in December 2020.

Now in September 2022, Ashin also received the Phi Kappa Phi Love of Learning Award in recognition of his superior academic record and life/career ambitions. The award helps fund post-baccalaureate professional development for active Phi Kappa Phi members. Phi Kappa Phi is the nation's oldest and most selective multidisciplinary collegiate honor society. Membership is by invitation only, by an established campus chapter, and is restricted to students with integrity and high ethical standards and who are ranked scholastically in the top of their class, regardless of field of study: the top 7.5 percent of second-semester university juniors and the top 10 percent of seniors and graduate students.

Ashin describes how he got started on the path to academia.

"My first-year research internship as an undergraduate sparked my interest for doing a PhD after my graduation. I wanted to explore the vast field of chemical engineering and make my profile inclined towards research," he said.

To make the most of his summer vacations, he applied for the undergraduate summer research internship program conducted at ICT Mumbai's Department of Chemical Engineering, where he got the opportunity to work under Professor P. R. Gogate. He suggested working with Dr. Rajeshree in the field of ultrasound- assisted ultrafiltration of whey. The project, intensifying recovery of valuable products from whey using ultrasound, was funded by the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India under the Ministry of Food Processing Industries.

"I would like to express my gratitude to Professor P. R. Gogate and Dr. Rajeshree for their support and guidance throughout my undergraduate research experience, without which I would not have received this award," said Ashin.  "I am also grateful to my current advisor, Professor L.-S. Fan, who is providing me with the critical tools and experience that will enable me to create knowledge as a doctoral student and beyond," Ashin said.

Ashin's goals also include applying the knowledge and insights learned in his doctoral program to solving problems related to energy and sustainability. 


During the manufacturing of cheese or paneer, a liquid by-product is generated when milk is curdled and strained. This liquid by-product is called whey. Typically, production of 1 kg of cheese is associated with generation of 9 litres of liquid whey which is a substantial amount and contributes to environmental concerns not only because of the huge quantities generated but also due to its high oxygen demand content. On average, India’s annual production of paneer is estimated to be 0.15 million tons with 2 million tons production of whey containing 0.13 million tons of valuable milk nutrients per annum. Valuable products obtained from whey include whey proteins (used as protein supplements) and lactose (used as excipient in tablets, capsules, and other pharmaceutical preparations). Whey Protein Isolate (WPI) is consumed by people who are lactose intolerant which requires separation of lactose. The rising awareness about improved lifestyle and health among the population would support the growth of the global whey protein market in the future.

Dual frequency ultrasound in the application for whey processing with an objective of recovering valuable products such as lactose has not been investigated in detail. Most of the studies involve applying single frequency ultrasound in food industry. My research focused on intensifying ultrafiltration applied for recovery of lactose from whey using ultrasound while optimizing power and frequency to maximize degree of intensification. Ultrasound-assisted ultrafiltration was demonstrated as an effective approach to increase lactose recovery with improved membrane operation due to reduced fouling of membrane.

The intensified process resulted not only in enhanced separation of valuable components but also addressed issues such as membrane fouling, high processing time and low productivity which are the major challenges in dairy industries. These affect the whey processing at industrial scale in terms of cost and energy, and thus impact the overall economics.

This research could have a significant impact on the academic and industrial sector by benefitting scientific researchers who could apply this as a foundation to explore the underlaying potentials of intensification via ultrasound in membrane separations for other applications in food, dairy, pharma, energy etc.


Rajeshree A. Khaire, Ashin A. Sunny, Parag R. Gogate, Ultrasound assisted ultrafiltration of whey using dual frequency ultrasound for intensified recovery of lactose, Chemical Engineering and Processing - Process Intensification, Volume 142, 2019, 107581, ISSN 0255-2701, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cep.2019.107581



Category: Grad Student
Tags: awardFan