A group of North­eastern Uni­ver­sity engi­neering stu­dents has come up with a low-​​cost way to help the world’s poor pre­serve food with the power of the sun.

The team — seniors Brian Arena, Nicholas Daggett, Andrew Gawla and Joshua Gomes —was advised by mechan­ical and indus­trial engi­neering pro­fessor Mohammad Taslim, and pre­sented the solar food dryer as its senior cap­stone project.

The sim­plest form of pre­venting spoilage is to remove mois­ture from fruits and veg­eta­bles in order to extend their storage lives, explained team members.

The objec­tive of the cap­stone project was to find a more viable solu­tion to what is most often a do-​​it-​​yourself project, which usu­ally involves fash­ioning a home­made dryer out of common mate­rials like wood, alu­minum and glass,” said Taslim.

Typ­i­cally solar dryers sit next to a house or building struc­ture and are one-​​directional,” said Gawlak. “Our design is unique because it is omni­di­rec­tional and can take advan­tage of the sun from any angle.”

The design uses a 360-​​degree solar col­lec­tion sur­face. The team believes there is nothing else like this avail­able and that their design brings increased effi­ciency com­pared to cur­rent solar dryers.

One of the most unique tech­nical fea­tures of the design is the cre­ation of a nat­ural flow of air over the fruits and veg­eta­bles to be dried,” explained Taslim. “Existing market prod­ucts only expose the fruits and veg­eta­bles to direct sun. That may bring them to a cooking tem­per­a­ture. Our design removes the water con­tent of the fruits and veg­eta­bles by cre­ating a con­tin­uous flow of air over them.”

The team was inspired by a friend vol­un­teering with the Peace Corps on an organic fruit and veg­etable farm in Uganda. In con­ducting their research, the stu­dents found that in some coun­tries, up to 50 per­cent of food spoils before it can be eaten. With product acces­si­bility in mind, the design was kept at a budget of $40.

The group’s design is a col­lapsible, light­weight solu­tion and is designed for porta­bility so the product can be taken wher­ever it is needed. The assembly of the dehy­drator is sim­ilar to that of a small tent, and fea­tures a remov­able food-​​drying compartment.

We’ve been in touch with the Peace Corps and hope to see the dryer pro­duced and sent to devel­oping nations,” said Gawlak. “A product like this could help ensure that pro­duce is not going to waste due to spoilage.”

The university’s office of tech­nology inno­va­tion and com­mer­cial­iza­tion is working with the team to make the device acces­sible to devel­oping countries.