Kolkata: In a pioneering step aimed at zero food wastage, a group of Indian engineers have designed a solar powered, portable micro cold storage system for small farmers that will help them store agricultural produce at low temperatures in areas with poor or no access to electricity.
Put together at Technology Entrepreneurship Park (STEP) of the Indian Institute of Technology (Kharagpur), the energy efficient cold storage units run on solar power harnessed through 2.5 KW - 3.5 KW panels and can be customised according to the crops.
"The thermal storage concept does not depend on grid electricity and after a two-year break-even, can generate over 40 percent increase in profits. Normally cold storages work on electricity and require battery back ups. But with our innovation, the solar powered ones does away with need for battery backups and eliminates running cost," Vivek Pandey, one of the engineers from IIT-Kgp, told IANS.
In India alone, 10 million tonnes of cold storage capacity is required to prevent the over 30 percent wastage of perishable produce. Indian food supply chain lacks storage infrastructure by 60 percent.
Pandey explained by using the novel storage unit, farmers will have the flexibility to store their produce and sell it in the market when prices increase.
"This will reduce wastage sustainably, increase margins for farmers, and further stabilize the supply chain, while preventing gluts. Moreover, the normal units cost four times the solar powered ones designed by us. We have filed for four different patents for the technology," he said.
At a dimension of eight foot by eight foot by eight foot (for five metric tonne unit) and varying storage capacity of 3.5, 5 and 10 metric tonnes, the units can be hauled onto small trucks and cargo vans for transport.
They are functional for storing horticultural and root crops at the moment, Pandey said.
Pandey and Rahul Sharma from IIFT, Kolkata won the top prize for this innovation (Rs.10 lakh) in the national university competition 'DuPont: The Power of Shunya'.
Having sold three to four units in Karnataka already, under the aegis of Ecofrost Technologies, the group is focusing on standardisation of the units so that prices can be lowered. Presently the units range from Rs.6 lakh to Rs.9 lakh.
"We are seeking partnerships with NGOs and financing institutions so that we can lower the price," he said.
Their immediate target is tapping the market in western Indian states but they have already received offers in West Bengal.
"We will set up an assembly facility for the units at Pune by the end of this month. The Bengal chapter of the National Horticultural Board has shown some interest. We are tying up with some banks and private players to make them available at a lower cost," he said, adding they have set up an office at IIT-Kgp.