Dec 12, 2022
USDA funds solar crop dehydrators startup

JUA Technologies International (JTI), an agriculture technology startup that manufactures solar-powered crop dehydrators, has received a two-year U.S. Department of Agriculture grant to further develop its multipurpose solar dehydration technology.

The $600,000 Phase II Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant funds the Smart Multipurpose Solar Dehydration Device for Value Addition to specialty crops, the successful proof of concept toward product design improvements and design for manufacture of JTI’s Dehymeleon solar dryer.

While crop dehydration can preserve food nutrients and extend food shelf life, it possesses drawbacks, Klein Ileleji, JTI’s co-founder and CEO/chief technology officer, said in a news release. Ileleji is also is a professor of agricultural and biological engineering and an affiliate of environmental and ecological engineering at Purdue University.

“It is an energy-intensive process with huge operating costs, because food dehydrators are typically powered by gas, electricity or fuel oil,” Ileleji said in the release. “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 countries in the tropics, where postharvest losses of nutrient-rich horticultural produce can be as high as 50%, dehydrating foods hygienically using the abundance of solar energy available in these parts will not only help support nutrition security, but also provide growers an opportunity to increase their income from value-added processing,” Ileleji said in the release.

Dehydrating fruits and vegetables, herbs and spices and medicinal plants still occurs using primitive and open sun-drying methods on mats or trays that degrade nutrients and reduce food quality.

While many solar dryer designs are available in literature and online, none have been commercialized or utilized in large numbers, Ileleji said in the release. JTI’s proposed high-efficiency, smart and multipurpose solar dehydrator fits the USDA’s and National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s priorities in four ways.

“It improves methods to process specialty crops to improve quality and nutritional value and provide healthy food options,” Ileleji said in the release. “It enables small and midsize growers to add value to their crops and increase their farm income. It provides those same growers with an affordable technology powered by renewable energy, which conserves energy and reduces operation cost. It also provides an energy-efficient technology to promote renewable energy use and support environmental sustainability.”

Klein Ileleji is co-founder and CEO of JUA Technologies International and a professor of agricultural and biological engineering at Purdue University. JUA has received a USDA research grant to develop its solar dehydration technology. Photo: Tom Campbell

The grant will cover a number of tasks, including examining field performance and modeling for fruits, vegetables, spices and herbs in Indiana and California and beta prototyping for manufacture.

In 2019, JTI received a $100,000 SBIR Phase I grant from the USDA and a $50,000 match from Elevate Ventures. In 2022, the U.S. Small Business Administration recognized Ileleji as the Indiana and the Great Lakes Regional Exporter of the Year for its portable solar dehydrator Dehytray.

A multi-institutional effort led by Purdue was initiated to reduce postharvest loss, promote economic growth, improve nutrition and enhance food security in Feed the Future target countries.

“Both the Dehytray and Dehymeleon technologies spun out from a United States Agency for International Development-supported effort called Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Processing and Post-Harvest Handling,” Ileleji said in the release.

JTI provided its solar dehydration technology to Purdue’s Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization, which Purdue licensed to JTI. JTI is a client of Purdue Foundry, an entrepreneurship and commercialization hub whose professionals help Purdue innovators create startups.

JTI develops technologies to efficiently harness solar energy to power agrifood systems. Founded in 2016, JTI develops and manufactures energy-efficient solar food dehydrators designed for households and small and midsize growers and processors. In 2019, Dehytray won two prestigious awards: the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineering AE50 Innovation Award and selection as finalist in the food category of Fast Company 2019 World Changing Ideas. Dehytray has been sold in more than 28 U.S. states and in more than 10 countries.

TOP PHOTO: JUA Technologies has received a USDA research grant to develop its solar dehydration technology.


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