Milk mining

A filtration system is set up at the Institute of Dairy Ingredient Processing at SDSU. The research facility works with companies in the dairy processing industry to test new products.

“Milk is wonderful all together,” said Lloyd Metzger. “But there are so many wonderful components in milk.”

Metzger is professor at South Dakota State University and works with the Institute of Dairy Ingredient Processing on campus. He’s been working with the latest technology in filtration to take components in milk and turn them into a myriad of different products.

The SDSU facility is unique in that it has commercial-grade filtration equipment where studies can be carried out on small scale. Dairy companies contract with the university to test products. Much of the work is confidential, but they try to keep track when new products hit the market that use the technology they helped develop.

One new product is a marriage of protein-packed drink and a fizzy soda water like La Croix. It launched last summer, and it’s called Phyzique.

It’s not creamy like most protein drinks, rather it looks and tastes like sparkling water. A can contains 20 grams of protein.

“It takes a very specific whey protein isolate to provide that,” Metzger said.

Creating the product required a very different filtration and drying process. The research center does a lot of work with milk protein concentrate. It’s used in ready-to-drink beverages like Fairlife, the lactose-free milk with extra protein.

“That market has really expanded,” Metzger said.

Filtration technology has been around for decades. It’s commonly used to remove lactose, but it’s evolved and it’s constantly applied in new ways. Filters today are made of different plastics and polymers. The milk or whey is pumped through multiple cartridges in stainless steel canisters. The membranes have tiny holes of different sizes that let some components of milk through while holding others back.

There’s an advantage in using filters rather than having to heat the milk or add emulsifying agents.

“It’s a really nice way to purify components in milk,” Metzger said. “You get a real clean, label friendly ingredient.”

It adds value to a traditional milk product, which helps dairy farmers. That’s why the Midwest Dairy checkoff group supports the work. The university is one of several involved in the Midwest Dairy Foods Research Center.

The group is also working on using other non-thermal technology, like ultrasound, that could help lead to longer shelf life for milk products. Partnering with schools, Midwest Dairy is helping put pizza ovens in school kitchens to provide fresh, never-frozen pizzas. Smoothies made with milk are another offering.

“We’re helping drive these foods into schools for better nutrition,” said Molly Pelzer, Midwest Dairy chief executive officer.

“The dairy research and promotion we do is about increasing trust in dairy,” he said. “We know dairy farmers are a very trusted voice to consumers, and we encourage their interaction.”

Janelle Atyeo can be reached at