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Smart Solar Powered Crop Dryer Receives Grant Funds

Klein Illeji, left, and Reiko Habuto Illeji, with a solar-powered crop drying device. (Jua Technologies International)

18 Sept. 2019. An Indiana company is receiving U.S. government and private grants to develop a solar-powered algorithm-controlled crop dehydrator for small farms. Jua Technologies International in Carmel, Indiana, a spin-off enterprise from Purdue University, is the recipient of a $100,000 award from National Institute of Food and Agriculture, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and a supplemental $50,000 from Elevate Ventures, a venture development organization supporting new enterprises in Indiana.

Jua Technologies is the creation of Purdue agricultural engineering professor Klein Ileleji and his wife Reiko Habuto Ileleji, a Ph.D. graduate in education from Purdue. The founders started the company in 2016 to develop crop drying and dehydrating equipment for small farmers. Quick, inexpensive drying methods, says the company, can reduce crop losses and waste, a continuing problem for small and mid-size growers. The company cites estimates of global crop losses after harvest totaling $20 billion per year. Using solar energy also reduces greenhouse gas emissions from natural gas or fuel oil.

Dehydration of fruit, spices, and herbs now often takes place either on open-air mats or energy-intensive commercial dehydrators. Open-air drying, while energy efficient says Jua Technologies, degrades nutrients in the crops and reduces food quality. And while solar-powered dehydrators are being designed, few are yet commercialized.

With the new funding, Jua Technologies is developing a high-efficiency crop dehydration system called the Dehymeleon using solar energy that operates both day and night. The system will include a drying chamber controlled by an algorithm to maximize control of the dehydration process, and a heat recovery module using zeolite minerals to absorb moisture during evening hours. The system is expected to have a thermal collector using copper tubes for heat exchange, and employ heat transfer with fans controlled by the system’s algorithm. The systems will also be able to generate supplemental solar electric power for the farm or home.

The project calls for developing simulation models to optimize performance of the Dehymeleon, and to predict performance of the system in the field with a range of fruits, vegetables, spices, and herbs. The end-result of the project is two or three prototype Dehymeleon crop dehydrators for testing on farms and orchards in Indiana and California. The company signed a a cooperative research and development agreement — a shared-cost arrangement — with a USDA research center in California to test its prototype systems with the state’s local produce.

While the system will be developed mainly for low-resource regions of the world, Ileleji expects to market the device to growers serving farmers markets in the U.S. “The Dehymeleon will be used by small and mid-size growers of specialty crops that have added value through drying,” says Klein Ileleji in a Purdue University statement. “You will be able to use the Dehymeleon to preserve essential nutrients in medicinal plants, tea, coffee and cocoa, which are very sensitive to temperature and ultraviolet light.”

The National Institute of Food and Agriculture award is made under the agency’s Small Business Innovation Research, or SBIR, program that sets-aside a portion of its research funds for small businesses in the U.S.

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