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Posted: Monday, 04 December 2017 08:25

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Sulphite-Free Wines on the Anvil

Dec 04: A research drive is working at the University of Kansas School of Engineering toward the design and marketing of a low-cost, easy-to-use device that would filter up to 99 percent of sulfites from wine when it's poured from the bottle and perhaps cost only $0.99, making wines available to those who are sensitive to Sulphur

Winemakers are known to have added sulfites to preserve various products including wine since the time of the Roman Empire. A class of compounds including sulfur dioxide and sulfite salts act as antioxidants and antibacterial compounds and can occur naturally during the winemaking process. They can also be added by producers to preserve freshness and boost flavour in wine.

However, people who have intolerance to sulfites may experience symptoms including chest tightness, stomach cramps, diarrhea and breathing problems. The underlying mechanisms for sulfite intolerance are not completely understood. But for some people the sensitivity to sulfites may be an allergic response. People with asthma appear to be at an increased risk of having asthma symptoms following exposure to sulfites. This is the reason that  since 1988 wines sold in the U.S. containing more than 10 parts per million (ppm) of sulfites have been required to include the phrase "contains sulfites" on the label.

Now, a research drive at the University of Kansas, School of Engineering is working toward the design and marketing of a low-cost, easy-to-use device that would filter up to 99 percent of sulfites from wine when it's poured from the bottle.

"Our idea is that you'd have a device like an aerator," said the Foundation Distinguished Professor of Chemical & Petroleum Engineering, Mark Shiflett who is leading the research. You stick it on the top of the wine bottle and as you pour through the device, it will remove the sulfites. And it would be inexpensive, costing a dollar or less so it would be dispensable. There will be a royalty payable to the University for each unit.

According to Shiflett and his young researchers, reportedly there are products already advertised as removing sulfites from wine but with shortcomings. Shiflett's group tested these products and found they only removed some of the sulfites and are expensive; in fact most removed only half the sulphites.

"We're doing a chemical separation where the wine passes through a material that acts like a magnet for the sulfites," said William Gilbert, a post-doctoral researcher in Shiflett's lab. "These are materials that if you were to look at the atomic scale you would find chemical sites that specifically bind sulfites so they don't pass into the wine glass."

"We are designing a material that would bind to the sulfites selectively," Shiflett said. "The other components of the wine, like the sugars and the tannins, won't be affected. It's adsorbing based on the idea of going specifically after the sulfites." He stresses that the adsorbent must remove the sulfites without changing the quality of the wine, a goal that complicates the removal of the unwanted preservative.

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