Research Foundation News

November 17, 2016

Purdue-affiliated startup developing solar-powered crop-drying device to prevent post-harvest losses for agro-processors

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – A Purdue-affiliated startup is developing an affordable, solar-powered crop-drying device. The technology could provide smallholders and small to medium agro-processors in developing countries, and small organic farms in the United States, a way to reduce post-harvest losses and add value to their crops using renewable energy.

Klein Ileleji, an associate professor in Purdue's Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering and his wife, Reiko Habuto Ileleji, a Purdue alumna who earned her Ph.D. from the College of Education, co-founded the startup JUA Technologies International LLC to further advance and commercialize the technology. The name of the company comes from the Kiswahili word jua, meaning sun.

 The innovation was developed with funding from USAID as part of a $5 million USAID Feed-the-Future Lab for Post Harvest Handling and Food Processing led by Purdue. One of the objectives of the project is to develop affordable grain-drying technologies, with focus on maize value-chains in Senegal and Kenya.

Klein Ileleji said smallholder farmers around the world often suffer great losses in the quantity and quality of crops due to inadequate drying.

"Crops harvested in their fresh state tend to have a lot of moisture, which doesn't permit long-term storage, so drying is the first step taken to preserve crop quality and prolong shelf life," he said. "In many developing countries, like Sub-Saharan Africa and South East Asia, farmers can't afford or don't have access to drying equipment; thus, their crops spoil and become unusable. Maize or grains and oilseeds in general, can have severe health implications if not dried properly due to aflatoxin, a toxin produced by mold. Aflatoxin consumed can cause cancer and even deaths in infants and the elderly.

"Aside from the health risks and losses associated with inadequate drying, farmers also don't reap the opportunity to capture value from dried commodities, like dried fruits you find in cereals or sundried fruits and vegetables, and have to sell their fresh crops in a highly glutted market."

Ileleji said the dryer has many features that make it run more efficiently than current devices and dries a larger variety of crops.

 "In drying we want to achieve three things: high temperatures, high air-flow rate and low humidity. The dryer has eight fans placed at the bottom of the dryer that pull heat down through thermal collectors at the top directing airflow through stacked drying trays in the drying chamber," he said. "Cooling fans located in the back of the unit bring ambient air to cool the chamber when pre-set temperatures are exceeded in places where temperatures can get extremely hot, so the crop doesn't cook before drying,"

The crop dryer has three different air inputs from the thermal collectors, when usually there is only one. This ensures even air distribution throughout the dryer. The dryer also provides a high air exchange rate, with the air being changed every four seconds.

"Our device uses vinyl curtains around the drying chamber allowing direct solar radiation to contribute to heating of the chamber," Ileleji said. "Having crops dried in an enclosed chamber helps to keep insects and other animals away from the crops, thus providing better phytosanitary conditions than currently used open-air sun drying methods."  

Ileleji said the device also will encompass a smart control console which enables the user to select various drying modes and temperature settings based on crop or product type.

"The heart and the brains of the system will be in the control console. We have been testing drying temperatures based on the vitamin content for different fruits and vegetables. All our tests are based on the nutritive value, so the temperatures can be changed automatically on the smart control console to fit the particular type of commodity," he said. "The cooling and drying fans will be modulated automatically so users can set a temperature that they want the fans to run at, which can be modulated from the feedback of temperature and relative humidity sensors of the drying chamber conditions. The device also has charging ports for small electronic devices, which is essential in developing countries where constant power is not always readily available."

Technology used by JUA Technologies International LLC has been licensed through the Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization. The company is a member of the Purdue Startup Class of 2016. Purdue has 27 startups based on Purdue intellectual property that were launched in the 2016 fiscal year. A video about JUA Technologies can be found at https://youtu.be/KJb9FTg1Hw4.

JUA Technologies is currently testing maize, carrots and mangoes in West Lafayette, Indiana; maize, vegetables, sweet potatoes and bananas in Kenya; and processed cereal meal, maize, carrots and mangoes in Senegal. Ileleji said he also sees potential for this dryer in the cocoa industry. Devices will be shipped to Nigeria and Ghana for tests with grains, fruits and vegetables, and cocoa in the near future. Once commercial manufacturing of the units begins, the company hopes to deploy 3,000 units within three years.

JUA Technologies plans to connect companies that purchase and sell dried crops with farmers who grow them in the community. The company also sees value in collecting data to determine energy use in crop drying.

Ileleji said many Purdue resources have helped him make this company possible.

"This company began when I attended a course in faculty entrepreneurship at Purdue, and it opened my eyes to the possibility of turning my research into a product and company. I then participated in the Entrepreneurship Leadership Academy, which gave me the confidence to further pursue it," he said. "I learned about the Purdue Foundry and its Launchbox program, so I enrolled and really began my first steps of putting plans into writing. All these opportunities and my mentors really allowed me to think about things globally and gave me the confidence to take on this endeavor."

JUA Technologies plans to further develop the dryer and test more crops. Ileleji is working with African-based manufacturers to scale production and is seeking manufacturing partnerships in other countries and company board members to help give guidance.

For information on other Purdue intellectual property ready for licensing and commercialization, visit http://www.otc-prf.org. For more information about available leadership positions, investing in a Purdue startup or licensing a Purdue innovation, visit http://www.purduefoundry.com.

About JUA Technologies International LLC

JUA Technologies International LLC is a Purdue affiliated startup developing solutions to prevent post-harvest losses for smallholders and small to medium agro-processors in developing countries, and small organic farms in the United States.

About Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization

The Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization operates one of the most comprehensive technology transfer programs among leading research universities in the U.S. Services provided by this office support the economic development initiatives of Purdue University and benefit the university's academic activities. The office is managed by the Purdue Research Foundation, which received the 2014 Incubator Network of the Year from the National Business Incubation Association for its work in entrepreneurship. For more information about funding and investment opportunities in startups based on a Purdue innovation, contact the Purdue Foundry at foundry@prf.org. For more information on licensing a Purdue innovation, contact the Office of Technology Commercialization at innovation@prf.org.

Purdue Research Foundation contact: Hillary Henry, 765-588-3586, hkhenry@prf.org

Sources: Klein E. Ileleji, ileleji@purdue.edu

Reiko Habuto Ileleji, reikohab@gmail.com


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