Shipping on sunshine: Solar power for African farmers

African sunshine

Farmers in Africa and Asia could sell more of their crops by transporting it in solar powered cooling vans, preserving the food before it is sold and cutting food waste.

One third of the world’s food, 1.3bn tonnes, gets thrown away each year. In warmer countries, where the food is subject to the scorching days and chilly nights, the inability to access electricity for refrigeration leads to 50-70% of the food grown going to waste.

Once British fruit and vegetables are harvested, they undergo a process of pre-cooling and then they are transported in cold vans to shops and wholesalers, this allows the food to stay fresher for longer. In less economically developed parts of the world, this sort of technology is non-existent.

“We aim to make these technologies accessible to people in rural areas, with no or limited electricity,” said Professor Savvas Tassou, director of Brunel’s Centre for Sustainable Energy Use in Food Chains.

Professor Tassou and his team, are developing mini temperature-controlled fridges that can be pulled along by tractors or smaller trucks. These affordable refrigeration units are powered by detachable photovoltaic (PV) solar panels. The panels fit together and fold out like wings from the vehicle’s sides and roof.

In order to allow low-income farmers to afford such a van, researchers are aiming to create business plans so that the units can be assembled locally and hire them out at a farmer-friendly cost, giving communities without electricity access to cheap renewable electrical power. This invention also allows farmers to keep their food fresh, with less waste.

“For us, the priority is more income for farmers,” added Professor Tassou. “This also helps create more employment for women, because they do most of the farming. The project will contribute to equal opportunities and gender equality and increase incomes to enable women to afford to provide better nutrition, health and education for their children.”

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