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These Solar-Powered Machines Help Farmers Dry Their Food Instead Of Letting It Rot

The devices dry food in parts of the world that lack refrigeration.

A lot of food grown in developing countries never makes it to the people’s bellies. Because of a lack of refrigeration, it rots during transport or when farmers fail to sell it immediately at markets. Every year, 1.3 billion tons of food (with a value of more than $1 trillion) is wasted in this way, according to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

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Drying food is a good alternative to cooling (perhaps you’ve heard of beef jerky). And with the FoodWa system, developed by a startup in Italy, you don’t even need electricity to do that. Its dryer runs completely on solar energy, which is captured both in the form of heat and by solar panels.

“One of the main problems in developing countries is they destroy food during transportation from the fields to the market,” says Paolo Franceschetti, the 33-year-old director of the company. “So we started to think of a system they can have directly in the field, so [farmers] can pick the food and dry it immediately. That way, they can save the food for all the year.”

The FoodWa, which comes in two sizes, and is like a big ventilated box. The smaller “Batch” version can handle about 11 pounds at a time. The bigger industrial version does about 50 tons a month. It takes about seven hours to dry sardines, for example; a little longer for vegetables and fruits.

The dryer is one of eight solar products Venice-based Solwa is developing. It also has a solar water desalinator that’s being used in Peru, Palestine, and Burkina Faso. It takes in salt water, warms it up until it becomes steam, then cools it down using more incoming seawater, producing a clear, unpolluted condensate.

Another product, called the DryWa, makes burnable briquettes out of seawater sludge. It also has an endless-loop process, using some of the energy from the dried fuel to keep the process going.

As for the DryWa, Franceschetti says it can reduce the emissions normally associated with gas-powered drying. “California is the first producer at the moment, but we want to improve the market in Africa or Asia, and reduce the impact of this process. When you use electricity for drying, you’re releasing millions of tons of CO2,” he points out.

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About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.

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