Kolkata, Sept 19: Young IIT engineers have come up with an affordable solution to the wastage of agricultural produce by developing a unique solar-powered cold storage system which works at almost zero running cost.
Developed at the Science and Technology entrepreneurship Park (STEP) of IIT-Kharagpur by mechanical engineering student Vivek Pandey and his team, the micro cold storage system has been successfully tested in a Karnataka farmland.
Under the banner of Ecofrost Technologies, the young graduates are now ready to move out of the campus and start a manufacturing and assembly unit in Pune next month. Using a uniquely designed thermal storage methodology that controls compartment cooling in tandem with regular cooling, micro cold storage helps increase the shelf life of agricultural produce using solar panels of 2.5 KW - 3.5 KW.
"The power generated is sent directly on to the compressor that can run at various speeds to adjust itself to the cooling demand. Instead of batteries, the system has a thermal storage unit which can store power for more than 36 hours to provide power in case there is no sun during cloudy or rainy weather," the young innovator said.
Existing solar-powered units run on batteries that need Existing solar-powered units run on batteries that need to be replaced after 2-3 years making the running cost very high for farmers. It is estimated that every year India loses around 30 per cent of food production due to wastage and contamination.
Vivek Pandey, a mechanical engineering student:
"It is the first of its kind product developed anywhere in the world as there are no running costs for the farmer and works on clean and sustainable technology for all 12 months. We have even applied for four patents for technologies used in the product."
"We want to provide farm-level solar cold storages in areas that lack access to grid-connected electricity. By increasing the shelf life of agriculture produce, it will improve farmers' livelihood by reducing losses and allowing better price realisation," Pandey said.
Meant for horticulture produce, the micro cold storage system has a capacity of five metric tonnes and a price varying between Rs 5 to 6 lakh. "We have started getting orders and will start a manufacturing and assembly unit in Pune next month. We have a target to manufacture 20,000 such cold storage units in the next five years," the IITian said, adding that they are looking to raise around Rs 5 crore from venture capitalists.
Their promising innovation has won the first prize of Rs 10 lakh in the national university competition 'DuPont: The Power of Shunya.' Besides selling directly to farmers, they are also trying to create village-level entrepreneurs who will act as nodal points for cold storage in mandis where any farmer can store his produce at a fixed cost.