Andrey Pechurin and his Accoustic Extra Freezing team are revolutionizing the way we freeze food.
By VIVIAN LEUNG
It has been centuries since the northern tribes invented shock freezing: The process was quite simple. These tribes living in winter climates would stick, for example, a fish straight up in the snow and let the cold wind blow across it, hoping to freeze the food as fast as possible. This type of traditional shock freezing method has basically been applied on an industrial scale since the 1920-30s and it hasn’t changed much. That is until Igor Klimashevsky challenged the idea.
Igor owned a very successful industrial confectionery business in Russia. Every summer he topped the cakes with delicious, fresh, in-season berries, and his customers loved it. Winter was a different story, however. With the prices of fresh berries skyrocketing in the fall, it simply didn’t make sense to continue making the cakes. He searched fruitlessly for a type of freezing technology that could preserve the taste and texture of a fresh berry only to find nothing. He even sourced the most advanced freezing technology they could find in Japan. Still no results. Was there any way to freeze the berries while having them still retain their original taste and texture?
To answer his question, Igor did what any logical person would do: he asked an aerospace engineer. Dmitry Balabolin, was an old friend of Igor’s. So as Igor explained his problem he decided to give the challenge a go. He didn’t know anything about refrigeration or freezing technology, but why not? By combining his knowledge of aerospace, crystallography, and metallurgy, Dmitry was able to take a different approach to the freezing process, and that was how the technology for acoustic extra freezing (AEF) was born.
Soon after the duo recruited Andrey Pechurin, whom he had worked on with a previous project, to support the growth and development of the business. At first, Andrey did it part-time, but he knew that if the potential of this amazing new technology was ever going to be realized, he would have to go full-time. So he eventually quit his job as the deputy CEO of the nuclear power company Rusatom Energy International to become the 3rd co-founder of the small startup.
AEF technology uses sound waves to assist in the freezing process.. As a result, smaller, smooth, more even-sized, and rounder crystals are formed inside the product (think snow powder). This means that when the product defrosts, the products retain more of their original taste and texture. By comparison, the sharp, pointy, erratically-sized crystals that are formed in shock freezing processes can wreak havoc on the internal cellular structure of a product, making it unpalatable to most after defrosting.
When they first started pitching their technology, they encountered their fair share of sceptics. The Russian Institute of Freezing Technology thought their ideas were preposterous and told them that even theoretically they cannot make it. So finally the trio knocked on their door and showed them a cucumber they had frozen using AEF technology. It was a bit softer than a fresh cucumber but still had retained most of its flavour and texture. If eaten, for example, with a piece of sushi, a person would barely notice the difference. They brought them even more products to freeze (e.g., sea urchin, caviar) and showed them the results. The institute was flabbergasted. Now students in a Russian university MGUTU perform projects using this technology. PhD students in New Zealand are starting to research the effects of AEF on milk products this fall.
With the trio in place, the skeptics silenced, and interest starting to grow, their next step was to begin international expansion. Where should they base their operations though? For Andrey and his co-founders, the answer really was a no-brainer: Finland.
Finland is not only able to serve as a gateway to that international market but also allows them to remain in close proximity to Russia. Now Andrey and his team are continuing their growth through the EIT FAN accelerator programme.
Has Andrey ever regretted leaving his steady job as a corporate executive? Definitely not. These past 3 years have been extremely exciting for him, and that he is learning much more than he ever would have learned at his old job. Even now in this EIT FAN programme, he is learning about how to improve their sales process
Just how good is this technology at freezing food? One of AEF’s first customers put their technology to the test. This customer, located in Mallorca, Spain, was a sushi supplier in a highly popular tourist destination. Like many businesses located in tourist destinations, he had the problem of not being able to keep up with demand during the tourist season, and having almost no demand during the winter season. When he bought a freezer with AEF’s technology, he decided to put the new equipment to the test. He served the sushi frozen by AEF technology side-by-side with his regular fresh sushi, the customers could not tell the difference. They even preferred it over the fresh product thanks to the use of cell regeneration technology (more info on that technology later).
Now that customer makes and stores his sushi in the winter when raw ingredients are cheaper and labour costs are lower. Then when restaurants ask him for huge batch orders of sushi during the high season, it is no longer a problem. He has already bought a 2nd freezer from AEF.
AEF’s technology can be retrofitted into any existing industrial-grade freezer space, making the upgrade significantly less cost-prohibitive. More importantly, once a product is frozen using AEF’s technology, the smooth ice-crystal structure can be maintained in any standard freezer. This means that you, your cold-chain logistics service providers and end customers can still use their conventional freezing technologies and reap the benefits.
The technology is also highly customizable depending on your application. In their research, Andrey and his team learned that different products require different freezing algorithms and programs in order to maintain the optimum quality of each product. For example, cell regeneration technology (which Dmitry took from the medical field) is used prior to the actual freezing of fresh meat and fish, which is why in certain cases customers actually think the frozen product tasted better than the fresh one.
In addition, the AEF team is constantly working hard to improve the energy efficiency of the entire freezer as a whole in an effort to help mitigate the effects of climate change. They recently launched their AEF- AERO technology, which has managed to increase the energy efficiency of their first Bulgarian customer’s freezer by 3 fold
In a world where customers want food that is convenient, tasty, and ready at the drop of a hat, AEF’s technology could be a game-changer. Customers can now get the convenience and low cost of frozen food while still getting the nutrition and taste that comes from eating it fresh.
So is frozen the new fresh? It might very well be. I personally am looking forward to a big refrigeration manufacturer like LG or Bosch integrating this technology into their systems so I can buy a personal AEF freezer for my home one day.
For more information on AEF’s innovative freezing technology, visit http://aefrus.com/
This article was originally published by EIT FAN programme whose demo-day is on October 6!