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Freeze Drying 101

Technically known as lyophilisation, lyophilization, or cryodesiccation is a dehydration process typically used to preserve a perishable material or make the material more convenient for transport. Freeze-drying works by freezing the material and then reducing the surrounding pressure to allow the frozen water in the material to sublime directly from the solid phase to the gas phase, skipping the liquid phase entirely. If you do not skip the liquid phase, you are not freeze drying, you are actually vacuum drying. This results in product degradation and loss of vital chemicals or nutrients.

The process of freeze-drying was invented in 1906 by Arsène d’Arsonval and his assistant Frédéric Bordas at the laboratory of biophysics of Collège de France in Paris. In 1911 Downey Harris and Shackle developed the freeze-drying method of preserving live rabies virus which eventually led to development of the first anti-rabies vaccine.

Modern freeze-drying was developed during World War II. Blood serum being sent to Europe from the US for medical treatment of the wounded required refrigeration, but because of the lack of simultaneous refrigeration and transport, many serum supplies were spoiling before reaching their intended recipients.

The freeze-drying process was developed as a commercial technique that enabled serum to be rendered chemically stable and viable without having to be refrigerated. Shortly thereafter, the freeze-dry process was applied to penicillin and bone, and lyophilization became recognized as an important technique for preservation of biologicals. Since that time, freeze-drying has been used as a preservation or processing technique for a wide variety of products.

These applications include the following but are not limited to: the processing of food, pharmaceuticals, and diagnostic kits; the restoration of water damaged documents; the preparation of river-bottom sludge for hydrocarbon analysis; the manufacturing of ceramics used in the semiconductor industry; the production of synthetic skin; the manufacture of sulfur-coated vials; and the restoration of historic/reclaimed boat hulls.


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