Dielectric heating

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A microwave oven uses dielectric heating to cook food. Microwave oven flashon.jpg
A microwave oven uses dielectric heating to cook food.

Dielectric heating, also known as electronic heating, radio frequency heating, and high-frequency heating, is the process in which a radio frequency (RF) alternating electric field, or radio wave or microwave electromagnetic radiation heats a dielectric material. At higher frequencies, this heating is caused by molecular dipole rotation within the dielectric.

Radio frequency (RF) is the oscillation rate of an alternating electric current or voltage or of a magnetic, electric or electromagnetic field or mechanical system in the frequency range from around twenty thousand times per second to around three hundred billion times per second. This is roughly between the upper limit of audio frequencies and the lower limit of infrared frequencies; these are the frequencies at which energy from an oscillating current can radiate off a conductor into space as radio waves. Different sources specify different upper and lower bounds for the frequency range.

Radio wave type of electromagnetic radiation

Radio waves are a type of electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths in the electromagnetic spectrum longer than infrared light. Radio waves have frequencies as high as 300 gigahertz (GHz) to as low as 30 hertz (Hz). At 300 GHz, the corresponding wavelength is 1 mm, and at 30 Hz is 10,000 km. Like all other electromagnetic waves, radio waves travel at the speed of light. They are generated by electric charges undergoing acceleration, such as time varying electric currents. Naturally occurring radio waves are emitted by lightning and astronomical objects.

Microwave form of electromagnetic radiation

Microwaves are a form of electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths ranging from about one meter to one millimeter; with frequencies between 300 MHz (1 m) and 300 GHz (1 mm). Different sources define different frequency ranges as microwaves; the above broad definition includes both UHF and EHF bands. A more common definition in radio engineering is the range between 1 and 100 GHz. In all cases, microwaves include the entire SHF band at minimum. Frequencies in the microwave range are often referred to by their IEEE radar band designations: S, C, X, Ku, K, or Ka band, or by similar NATO or EU designations.


RF dielectric heating at intermediate[ clarification needed ] frequencies, due to its greater penetration over microwave heating, shows greater promise than microwave systems as a method of very rapidly heating and uniformly preparing certain food items, and also killing parasites and pests in certain harvested crops. [1]


Molecular rotation occurs in materials containing polar molecules having an electrical dipole moment, with the consequence that they will align themselves in an electromagnetic field. If the field is oscillating, as it is in an electromagnetic wave or in a rapidly oscillating electric field, these molecules rotate continuously by aligning with it. This is called dipole rotation, or dipolar polarisation. As the field alternates, the molecules reverse direction. Rotating molecules push, pull, and collide with other molecules (through electrical forces), distributing the energy to adjacent molecules and atoms in the material. The process of energy transfer from the source to the sample is a form of radiative heating.

Electromagnetic field physical field produced by electrically charged objects

An electromagnetic field is a physical field produced by electrically charged objects. It affects the behavior of charged objects in the vicinity of the field. The electromagnetic field extends indefinitely throughout space and describes the electromagnetic interaction. It is one of the four fundamental forces of nature.

Molecule electrically neutral entity consisting of more than one atom (n > 1); rigorously, a molecule, in which n > 1 must correspond to a depression on the potential energy surface that is deep enough to confine at least one vibrational state

A molecule is an electrically neutral group of two or more atoms held together by chemical bonds. Molecules are distinguished from ions by their lack of electrical charge. However, in quantum physics, organic chemistry, and biochemistry, the term molecule is often used less strictly, also being applied to polyatomic ions.

Alternating current electric voltage which periodically reverses direction; form in which electric power is delivered to businesses and residences; form of electrical energy that consumers typically use when they plug electric appliances into a wall socket

Alternating current (AC) is an electric current which periodically reverses direction, in contrast to direct current (DC) which flows only in one direction. Alternating current is the form in which electric power is delivered to businesses and residences, and it is the form of electrical energy that consumers typically use when they plug kitchen appliances, televisions, fans and electric lamps into a wall socket. A common source of DC power is a battery cell in a flashlight. The abbreviations AC and DC are often used to mean simply alternating and direct, as when they modify current or voltage.

Temperature is related to the average kinetic energy (energy of motion) of the atoms or molecules in a material, so agitating the molecules in this way increases the temperature of the material. Thus, dipole rotation is a mechanism by which energy in the form of electromagnetic radiation can raise the temperature of an object. There are also many other mechanisms by which this conversion occurs. [2]

Temperature physical property of matter that quantitatively expresses the common notions of hot and cold

Temperature is a physical quantity expressing hot and cold. It is measured with a thermometer calibrated in one or more temperature scales. The most commonly used scales are the Celsius scale, Fahrenheit scale, and Kelvin scale. The kelvin is the unit of temperature in the International System of Units (SI), in which temperature is one of the seven fundamental base quantities. The Kelvin scale is widely used in science and technology.

Kinetic energy energy possessed by an object by virtue of its motion

In physics, the kinetic energy of an object is the energy that it possesses due to its motion. It is defined as the work needed to accelerate a body of a given mass from rest to its stated velocity. Having gained this energy during its acceleration, the body maintains this kinetic energy unless its speed changes. The same amount of work is done by the body when decelerating from its current speed to a state of rest.

Dipole rotation is the mechanism normally referred to as dielectric heating, and is most widely observable in the microwave oven where it operates most efficaciously on liquid water, and also, but much less so, on fats and sugars. This is because fats and sugar molecules are far less polar than water molecules, and thus less affected by the forces generated by the alternating electromagnetic fields. Outside of cooking, the effect can be used generally to heat solids, liquids, or gases, provided they contain some electric dipoles.

Microwave oven kitchen appliance

A microwave oven is an electric oven that heats and cooks food by exposing it to electromagnetic radiation in the microwave frequency range. This induces polar molecules in the food to rotate and produce thermal energy in a process known as dielectric heating. Microwave ovens heat foods quickly and efficiently because excitation is fairly uniform in the outer 25–38 mm(1–1.5 inches) of a homogeneous, high water content food item; food is more evenly heated throughout than generally occurs in other cooking techniques.

Water chemical compound

Water is a transparent, tasteless, odorless, and nearly colorless chemical substance, which is the main constituent of Earth's streams, lakes, and oceans, and the fluids of most living organisms. It is vital for all known forms of life, even though it provides no calories or organic nutrients. Its chemical formula is H2O, meaning that each of its molecules contains one oxygen and two hydrogen atoms, connected by covalent bonds. Water is the name of the liquid state of H2O at standard ambient temperature and pressure. It forms precipitation in the form of rain and aerosols in the form of fog. Clouds are formed from suspended droplets of water and ice, its solid state. When finely divided, crystalline ice may precipitate in the form of snow. The gaseous state of water is steam or water vapor. Water moves continually through the water cycle of evaporation, transpiration (evapotranspiration), condensation, precipitation, and runoff, usually reaching the sea.

Fat one of the three main macronutrients, along with carbohydrate and protein. Fats, also known as triglycerides, are esters of three fatty acid chains and the alcohol glycerol

Fat is one of the three main macronutrients, along with the other two: carbohydrate and protein. Fats molecules consist of primarily carbon and hydrogen atoms, thus they are all hydrocarbon molecules. Examples include cholesterol, phospholipids and triglycerides.

Dielectric heating involves the heating of electrically insulating materials by dielectric loss. A changing electric field across the material causes energy to be dissipated as the molecules attempt to line up with the continuously changing electric field. This changing electric field may be caused by an electromagnetic wave propagating in free space (as in a microwave oven), or it may be caused by a rapidly alternating electric field inside a capacitor. In the latter case, there is no freely-propagating electromagnetic wave, and the changing electric field may be seen as analogous to the electric component of an antenna near field. In this case, although the heating is accomplished by changing the electric field inside the capacitive cavity at radio-frequency (RF) frequencies, no actual radio waves are either generated or absorbed. In this sense, the effect is the direct electrical analog of magnetic induction heating, which is also near-field effect (thus not involving radio waves).[ citation needed ]

Dielectric loss quantifies a dielectric material's inherent dissipation of electromagnetic energy. It can be parameterized in terms of either the loss angleδ or the corresponding loss tangent tan δ. Both refer to the phasor in the complex plane whose real and imaginary parts are the resistive (lossy) component of an electromagnetic field and its reactive (lossless) counterpart.

Near and far field regarding radioantennas

The near field and far field are regions of the electromagnetic field (EM) around an object, such as a transmitting antenna, or the result of radiation scattering off an object. Non-radiative 'near-field' behaviours of electromagnetic fields dominate close to the antenna or scattering object, while electromagnetic radiation 'far-field' behaviours dominate at greater distances.

Electromagnetic induction production of voltage by a varying magnetic field

Electromagnetic or magnetic induction is the production of an electromotive force across an electrical conductor in a changing magnetic field.

Frequencies in the range of 10–100  MHz are necessary to cause dielectric heating, although higher frequencies work equally well or better, and in some materials (especially liquids) lower frequencies also have significant heating effects, often due to more unusual mechanisms. For example, in conductive liquids such as salt water, ion-drag causes heating, as charged ions are "dragged" more slowly back and forth in the liquid under influence of the electric field, striking liquid molecules in the process and transferring kinetic energy to them, which is eventually translated into molecular vibrations and thus into thermal energy.[ citation needed ]

Dielectric heating at low frequencies, as a near-field effect, requires a distance from electromagnetic radiator to absorber of less than 1/2π1/6 of a wavelength. It is thus a contact process or near-contact process, since it usually sandwiches the material to be heated (usually a non-metal) between metal plates taking the place of the dielectric in what is effectively a very large capacitor. However, actual electrical contact is not necessary for heating a dielectric inside a capacitor, as the electric fields that form inside a capacitor subjected to a voltage do not require electrical contact of the capacitor plates with the (non-conducting) dielectric material between the plates. Because lower frequency electrical fields penetrate non-conductive materials far more deeply than do microwaves, heating pockets of water and organisms deep inside dry materials like wood, it can be used to rapidly heat and prepare many non-electrically conducting food and agricultural items, so long as they fit between the capacitor plates.[ citation needed ]

At very high frequencies, the wavelength of the electromagnetic field becomes shorter than the distance between the metal walls of the heating cavity, or than the dimensions of the walls themselves. This is the case inside a microwave oven. In such cases, conventional far-field electromagnetic waves form (the cavity no longer acts as a pure capacitor, but rather as an antenna), and are absorbed to cause heating, but the dipole-rotation mechanism of heat deposition remains the same. However, microwaves are not efficient at causing the heating effects of low frequency fields that depend on slower molecular motion, such as those caused by ion-drag.[ citation needed ]


Dielectric heating must be distinguished from Joule heating of conductive media, which is caused by induced electric currents in the media. [3] For dielectric heating, the generated power density per volume is given by:[ citation needed ]

where ω is the angular frequency of the exciting radiation, εr″ is the imaginary part of the complex relative permittivity of the absorbing material, ε0 is the permittivity of free space and E the electric field strength. The imaginary part of the (frequency-dependent) relative permittivity is a measure for the ability of a dielectric material to convert electromagnetic field energy into heat.[ citation needed ]

If the conductivity σ of the material is small, or the frequency is high, such that σωε (with ε = εr″ · ε0), then dielectric heating is the dominant mechanism of loss of energy from the electromagnetic field into the medium.[ citation needed ]


Microwave frequencies penetrate conductive materials, including semi-solid substances like meat and living tissue, to a distance defined by the skin effect. The penetration essentially stops where all the penetrating microwave energy has been converted to heat in the tissue. Microwave ovens used to heat food are not set to the frequency for optimal absorption by water. If that were so, then the piece of food or liquid in question would absorb all microwave radiation in its outer layer, leading to a cool, unheated centre and a superheated surface. Instead, the frequency selected allows energy to penetrate deeper into the heated food. The frequency of a household microwave oven is 2.45 GHz, while the frequency for optimal absorbency by water is around 10 GHz. [4]

Radio-frequency heating

The use of high-frequency electric fields for heating dielectric materials had been proposed in the 1930s. For example, U.S. Patent 2,147,689 (application by Bell Telephone Laboratories, dated 1937) states "This invention relates to heating systems for dielectric materials and the object of the invention is to heat such materials uniformly and substantially simultaneously throughout their mass. It has been proposed therefore to heat such materials simultaneously throughout their mass by means of the dielectric loss produced in them when they are subjected to a high voltage, high frequency field." This patent proposed radio frequency (RF) heating at 10 to 20 megahertz (wavelength 15 to 30 meters). [5] Such wavelengths were far longer than the cavity used, and thus made use of near-field effects and not electromagnetic waves. (Commercial microwave ovens use wavelengths only 1% as long.)

In agriculture, RF dielectric heating has been widely tested and is increasingly used as a way to kill pests in certain food crops after harvest, such as walnuts still in the shell. Because RF heating can heat foods more uniformly than is the case with microwave heating, RF heating holds promise as a way to process foods quickly. [1]

In medicine, the RF heating of body tissues, called diathermy, is used for muscle therapy [6] Heating to higher temperatures, called hyperthermia therapy, is used to kill cancer and tumor tissue.

Microwave heating

In addition to heating food, microwaves are widely used for heating in many industrial processes. An industrial microwave tunnel oven for heating plastic parts prior to extrusion. Microwave tunnel closeup.jpg
In addition to heating food, microwaves are widely used for heating in many industrial processes. An industrial microwave tunnel oven for heating plastic parts prior to extrusion.

Microwave heating, as distinct from RF heating, is a sub-category of dielectric heating at frequencies above 100 MHz, where an electromagnetic wave can be launched from a small dimension emitter and guided through space to the target. Modern microwave ovens make use of electromagnetic waves with electric fields of much higher frequency and shorter wavelength than RF heaters. Typical domestic microwave ovens operate at 2.45 GHz, but 915 MHz ovens also exist. This means that the wavelengths employed in microwave heating are 0.1 cm to 10 cm. [7] This provides for highly efficient, but less penetrative, dielectric heating.[ citation needed ]

Although a capacitor-like set of plates can be used at microwave frequencies, they are not necessary, since the microwaves are already present as far field type EM radiation, and their absorption does not require the same proximity to a small antenna as does RF heating. The material to be heated (a non-metal) can therefore simply be placed in the path of the waves, and heating takes place in a non-contact process which does not require capacitative conductive plates.[ citation needed ]

Microwave volumetric heating

Microwave volumetric heating is a commercially available method of heating liquids, suspensions, or solids in a continuous flow on an industrial scale. Microwave volumetric heating has a greater penetration depth, of up to 42 millimetres (1.7 in), which is an even penetration through the entire volume of the flowing product. This is advantageous in commercial applications where increased shelf-life can be achieved, with increased microbial kill at temperatures 10–15 °C (18–27 °F) lower than when using conventional heating systems.

Application for microwave volumetic heating:

Food Application

In drying of foods, dielectric heating is usually combined with conventional heating. It may be used to preheat the feed to a hot-air drier. By raising the temperature of the feed quickly and causing moisture to move to the surface, it can decrease the overall drying time. Dielectric heating may be applied part-way through the drying cycle, when the food enters the falling rate period. This can boost the rate of drying. If dielectric heating is applied near the end of hot-air drying it can also shorten the drying time significantly and hence increase the throughput of the drier. It is more usual to use dielectric heating in the later stages of drying. One of the major applications of RF heating is in the postbaking of biscuits. The objectives in baking biscuits are to produce a product of the right size, shape, color, and moisture content. In a conventional oven, reducing the moisture content to the desired level can take up a large part of the total baking time. The application of RF heating can shorten the baking time. The oven is set to produce biscuits of the right size, shape, and color, but the RF heating is used to remove the remaining moisture, without excessive heating of the already dry sections of the biscuit. [8] The capacity of an oven can be increased by more than 50% by the use of RF heating. Postbaking by RF heating has also been applied to breakfast cereals and cereal-based baby foods. [9]

Food quality is maximized and better retained using electromagnetic energy than conventional heating. Conventional heating results in large disparity in temperature and longer processing times which can cause overprocessing on the food surface and impairment of the overall quality of the product. [10] Electromagnetic energy can achieve higher processing temperatures in shorter times, therefore, more nutritional and sensory properties are conserved. [11]

See also

Related Research Articles

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In physics, electromagnetic radiation refers to the waves of the electromagnetic field, propagating (radiating) through space, carrying electromagnetic radiant energy. It includes radio waves, microwaves, infrared, (visible) light, ultraviolet, X-rays, and gamma rays.

The electromagnetic spectrum is the range of frequencies of electromagnetic radiation and their respective wavelengths and photon energies.

Radiation waves or particles propagating through space or through a medium, carrying energy

In physics, radiation is the emission or transmission of energy in the form of waves or particles through space or through a material medium. This includes:

Permittivity physical quantity, measure of the resistance to the electric field

In electromagnetism, absolute permittivity, often simply called permittivity, usually denoted by the Greek letter ε (epsilon), is the measure of capacitance that is encountered when forming an electric field in a particular medium. More specifically, permittivity describes the amount of charge needed to generate one unit of electric flux in a particular medium. Accordingly, a charge will yield more electric flux in a medium with low permittivity than in a medium with high permittivity. Permittivity is the measure of a material's ability to store an electric field in the polarization of the medium.

Antenna (radio) electrical device which converts electric power into radio waves, and vice versa

In radio engineering, an antenna is the interface between radio waves propagating through space and electric currents moving in metal conductors, used with a transmitter or receiver. In transmission, a radio transmitter supplies an electric current to the antenna's terminals, and the antenna radiates the energy from the current as electromagnetic waves. In reception, an antenna intercepts some of the power of a radio wave in order to produce an electric current at its terminals, that is applied to a receiver to be amplified. Antennas are essential components of all radio equipment.

Super high frequency (SHF) is the ITU designation for radio frequencies (RF) in the range between 3 and 30 gigahertz (GHz). This band of frequencies is also known as the centimetre band or centimetre wave as the wavelengths range from one to ten centimetres. These frequencies fall within the microwave band, so radio waves with these frequencies are called microwaves. The small wavelength of microwaves allows them to be directed in narrow beams by aperture antennas such as parabolic dishes and horn antennas, so they are used for point-to-point communication and data links and for radar. This frequency range is used for most radar transmitters, wireless LANs, satellite communication, microwave radio relay links, and numerous short range terrestrial data links. They are also used for heating in industrial microwave heating, medical diathermy, microwave hyperthermy to treat cancer, and to cook food in microwave ovens.

Resonator device or system that exhibits resonance or resonant behavior, that is, it naturally oscillates at some frequencies, called its resonant frequencies, with greater amplitude than at others

A resonator is a device or system that exhibits resonance or resonant behavior, that is, it naturally oscillates at some frequencies, called its resonant frequencies, with greater amplitude than at others. The oscillations in a resonator can be either electromagnetic or mechanical. Resonators are used to either generate waves of specific frequencies or to select specific frequencies from a signal. Musical instruments use acoustic resonators that produce sound waves of specific tones. Another example is quartz crystals used in electronic devices such as radio transmitters and quartz watches to produce oscillations of very precise frequency.

Diathermy is electrically induced heat or the use of high-frequency electromagnetic currents as a form of physical therapy and in surgical procedures. The earliest observations on the reactions of high-frequency electromagnetic currents upon the human organism were made by Jacques Arsene d'Arsonval. The field was pioneered in 1907 by German physician Karl Franz Nagelschmidt, who coined the term diathermy from the Greek words dia and θέρμη therma, literally meaning "heating through".

Electrosurgery application of a high-frequency alternating polarity, electrical current to biological tissue as a means to cut, coagulate, desiccate, or fulgurate tissue

Electrosurgery is the application of a high-frequency alternating polarity, electrical current to biological tissue as a means to cut, coagulate, desiccate, or fulgurate tissue.. Its benefits include the ability to make precise cuts with limited blood loss. Electrosurgical devices are frequently used during surgical operations helping to prevent blood loss in hospital operating rooms or in outpatient procedures.

Microwave cavity

A microwave cavity or radio frequency (RF) cavity is a special type of resonator, consisting of a closed metal structure that confines electromagnetic fields in the microwave region of the spectrum. The structure is either hollow or filled with dielectric material. The microwaves bounce back and forth between the walls of the cavity. At the cavity's resonant frequencies they reinforce to form standing waves in the cavity. Therefore, the cavity functions similarly to an organ pipe or sound box in a musical instrument, oscillating preferentially at a series of frequencies, its resonant frequencies. Thus it can act as a bandpass filter, allowing microwaves of a particular frequency to pass while blocking microwaves at nearby frequencies.

Microwave burns are burn injuries caused by thermal effects of microwave radiation absorbed in a living organism. In comparison with radiation burns caused by ionizing radiation, where the dominant mechanism of tissue damage is internal cell damage caused by free radicals, the primary damage mechanism of microwave radiation is by heat.

Non-ionizing radiation electromagnetic radiation that does not carry enough energy per quantum to ionize atoms or molecules

Non-ionizingradiation refers to any type of electromagnetic radiation that does not carry enough energy per quantum to ionize atoms or molecules—that is, to completely remove an electron from an atom or molecule. Instead of producing charged ions when passing through matter, non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation has sufficient energy only for excitation, the movement of an electron to a higher energy state. Ionizing radiation which has a higher frequency and shorter wavelength than nonionizing radiation, has many uses but can be a health hazard; exposure to it can cause burns, radiation sickness, cancer, and genetic damage. Using ionizing radiation requires elaborate radiological protection measures which in general are not required with nonionizing radiation.

Microwave Volumetric Heating (MVH) is a method of using microwaves to evenly heat the entire volume of a flowing liquid, suspension or semi-solid. The process is known as MVH because the microwaves penetrate uniformly throughout the volume of the product being heated, thus delivering energy evenly into the body of the material.

Radio-frequency welding, also known as dielectric welding and high-frequency welding, is a plastics joining process that utilizes high-frequency radio waves to heat plastic parts to the point they form a melt layer. After the development of the melt layer, the parts are pressed together and then allowed to cool causing fusion. This process is capable of producing high quality joints in a range of plastics. Advantages of this process are fast cycle times, easily automated, repeatable, and good weld appearance. While this process has some great advantages, there are some limitations. Only plastics which have dipoles can be heated using radio waves and therefore not all plastics are able to be welded using this process. Also, this process is not well suited for thick or overly complex joints. The most common use of this process is lap joints or seals on thin plastic sheets or parts.


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