JUA Technologies, an agriculture technology start-up that manufactures solar-powered crop dehydrators, has received a two-year, $600,000 Phase II Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop its technology.
The goal of the Phase II project, titled Smart Multipurpose Solar Dehydration Device for Value Addition to Specialty Crops, is proof of concept toward product-design improvements and design for the company’s production of a multipurpose solar dryer, called Dehymeleon.
“It is an energy-intensive process with huge operating costs because food dehydrators are typically powered by gas, electricity or fuel oil,” said Dr. Klein E. Ileleji, chief executive officer and co-founder of JUA Technologies, and also a professor of agricultural and biological engineering at Purdue University. “The high operating cost limits the ability of small and midsize growers and processors in the U.S. to produce dehydrated foods. Small growers and processors are vital to the local foods and urban agriculture industry, which is currently a $1 billion and growing industry in the U.S.”
In developing tropical countries, where post-harvest losses of horticultural produce can be as high as 50%, dehydrating foods using solar energy will not only help support nutrition security but also provide growers an opportunity to increase their income from value-added processing.
Ileleji said dehydrating fruits and vegetables, herbs and spices, and medicinal plants still occurs using primitive, open sun-drying methods on mats or trays that degrade nutrients and reduce food quality.
“While there are a lot of solar dryer designs available in literature and online, none of them have been commercialized or utilized in large numbers,” Ileleji said.
JUA Technologies’ proposed high-efficiency multipurpose solar dehydrator fits the USDA’s and National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s priorities in four ways:
- Improved methods to process specialty crops to improve quality and nutritional value.
- Enables small and mid-size growers to add value to their crops and increase farm income.
- Conservation of energy and reduced operating costs.
- Energy-efficient technology promotes renewable energy use and supports environmental sustainability
The USDA SBIR grant will cover four research and development goals. Ileleji said the goals will be addressed by JUA Technologies and contracted manufacturing and product engineering design firms:
- Modeling and simulation to optimize the solar dehydrator’s performance.
- Determining the behavior and performance of the desiccant and heat-recovery system under various drying loads.
- Determining the field performance and validating the modeling effort for fruits, vegetables, spices and herbs in Indiana and California.
- Beta prototyping of the product for manufacture.
In January 2021, Ileleji incorporated Dehytech East Africa Limited as a subsidiary of JUA Technologies. Dehytech is responsible for the import, distribution, marketing, sales and coordination of training and technical services for JUA Technologies’ solar food dryers, Dehytray and other products serving the East Africa region.
In 2019, JUA Technologies received an initial $100,000 SBIR Phase I grant from the USDA and a $50,000 investment from Elevate Ventures.
This year the U.S. Small Business Administration recognized Ileleji as the Indiana and the Great Lakes Regional Exporter of the Year, for the deployment of its portable solar dehydrator, Dehytray.
“Both the Dehytray and Dehymeleon technologies spun out from a United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-supported effort called Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Processing and Post-Harvest Handling,” Ileleji said. “It was a multi-institutional effort led by Purdue University to reduce postharvest loss, promote economic growth, improve nutrition and enhance food security in Feed the Future target countries.
West Lafayette, Indiana-based JUA Technologies was formed in 2016 by Dr. Ileleji and wife Dr. Reiko Ileleji as an affiliate of the Purdue Foundry. The company’s PV-enabled dehydrating technologies are designed for households, small and mid-sized agriculture processes and growing.
Its first product, the Dehytray, has been sold in 28 states as well as more than 10 countries, and retails for about $139.50 on the company’s website and various retailers such as Walmart. In 2017, the company’s prototype technology was among the Top 10 innovations to receive awards at the first All-African Post-Harvest Congress and Exhibit, held in Nairobi, Kenya.
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