Solar-powered produce dehydrator developed in Chile
Following recent advances in solar energy, a prototype that is powered by sunlight and can be easily installed and removed was developed by Jaime Espinoza from the Mechanical Engineering and Energy Innovation Department at the Universidad Técnica Federico Santa María (USM) in central Chile.
The prototype can even function while it is being transported by truck, and is capable of processing between 500-1000kg (1,102-2,204lbs) of produce per day.
"The initiative was a response to a need in the agricultural sector," Espinoza told www.freshfruitportal.com.
"The USM has maintained its almost permanent work on solar energy, and in this case it has allowed me to focus on the the subject of solar drying and dehydrating as a technological challenge.
"How is it possible that in Chile products are still dried directly in the sun, without any control, knowing that we are so advanced in solar energy?"
He said that like his university department, his goal had been to come up with real solutions to real problems.
"We developed the concept of solar-active roofs, which means we allowed the roofs to capture the warm solar air using a system called a 'false roof', which can heat the air to almost 70°C (158°C) and reduce the humidity levels to almost 10%," Espinoza said.
"We then continued with the development of the 'solar dehydration container', which is a modular unit that comes in two different sizes and can be used for almost any type of food."
Espinoza went on to say the container could be manufactured using available construction material for any cold storage unit, and so its availability would essentially be guaranteed throughout the country.
The initiative is currency being financed by the Ministry of Energy to support the dehydrated produce sector in an area of Chile's V region (Valparaiso) and improve the quality of certain dried products like peaches.
"The solar dehydration container, which has been patented, heats the air through its walls and can be used to dehydrate grapes, peaches, tomatoes, eggplants, figs, blueberries, apples et cetera. The list of options is long," Espinoza said.
He added the container provided many benefits to the produce over traditional methods, as the process could be fully controlled and the products were free from any external agents which could otherwise affect the quality.