Solar powered food drying for gardeners, farmers and commercial scale food producers is coming to the US.
Claudio Menegatti, an Italian scientist, has been building solar powered food dehydrators for almost 15 years. He manufactures three different models from his backyard in Ferrara, Italy. The inspiration for the dryers came while he was working in Africa. He witnessed women from various villages walking miles to access firewood, and unsanitary food preparation, such as drying coffee beans on the ground or drying fish on dirty metal grates.
He began experimenting and developed these units that can run completely off the grid. The Elio is a convection heat model. The drying chamber has about 5 square feet of shelving and the patented solar panel supplies the heated and dried air for processing. Ideally, the maximum temperatures must be around 122 F. But the science of food drying is not that simple, especially when you are trying to do it without a source of electricity.
Bacterial colonies can grow if heat and moisture are not controlled. Menegatti has refined his solar panel to be so sensitive that it continues to move air through the chambers even at night. What he discovered was a biodynamic method that resulted in a totally different food preservation system.
His system takes advantage of lower temperatures and the higher air moisture content during the night hours. By using warm dry air during the day and cooler moist air at night, the process takes moisture out of fruits or vegetables, then rehydrates over and over resulting in a food product that retains color, vitamins, minerals, texture, and flavor better than any other dryer.
Samples of foods preserved with this technology have been tested after more than a year of preservation. The results have been studied and confirmed by the Italian Ministry of Agriculture and other European agencies. The systems are now ready for mass production. We are hoping to have a pilot project with Cornell University’s Experimental farm this summer or fall in Geneva, NY.
The Zefiro and Zefiro Max are larger scale dryers.
The Zefiro has solar panels on the roof and sides and requires the use of preprogrammed automatic fans to maintain the proper temperatures.
The Zefiro Max or Tunnel is about 20 feet long. The entire roof is made up of Menegatti panels. Fans draw warm, dry air through the units during the day and cooler, moist air at night. Where electricity is available, the Zefiro only needs 50 watts of power, less than one 60 watt light bulb. The Zefiro Max requires 500 watts of electrical power.
But many of the villages Menegatti and his wife were familiar with did not have a reliable or cost effective power source. Solar panels that create electricity is a solution. Paired with the proper controls and batteries, the Menegatti dryers can now run totally off grid.
Ecovidaglobal, a nonprofit that works with communities in the Americas, contacted me recently. They are gearing up to work with a village of about 100 families in a remote part of Honduras.
The people are subsistence farmers, who live miles from power sources and depend upon their agricultural skills to make a living. Not only do they grow food for themselves, but they barter their produce with other villages, transporting much of the harvest by mule or on their own backs. A large percentage of the food supply is spoiled before it reaches its destination.
Anne Usher from Ecovidaglobal sees a fantastic opportunity for this community drying and preserving food for their own use as well as for the business efforts. She also envisions an economic development opportunity where other groups will be able to license the technology from Menegatti to be able to build cost effective units themselves and sell them throughout the region.
This exact model is also being reviewed for funding by www.hopehaiti.org, a nonprofit serving another agrarian population in the Borgne, Haiti region.
We are working to create a manufacturing facility for the Elio here in Rochester, NY. We have a business plan in place and an Indiegogo crowd funding campaign in the works. We plan to build and ship the Elio as a do-it-yourself kit to users and a dealership network. A portion of the profits from sales will help to offset costs to NGO’s and nonprofits doing the kind of work described. We will also be able to ship the patented solar panels that drive these systems. Licensing agreements are being put in place.
Our website has just been launched. You can visit us at: http://ronjf1.wix.com/solar-food-drying. Please contact me with any questions and feedback.
(This post is not a solicitation for investment.)
Call or email Ron if you’re interested in a free consultation about any of your sustainable living concerns, on or off the grid!