Supporting Global Agriculture

Engineering students work on solar dryers with mechanical engineering professor Dr. David Zietlow. (Photo by Duane Zehr)

Matt Hawkins
June 12, 2017

A solar fruit dryer developed by Bradley mechanical engineering students could help farmers in Thailand and other developing countries improve crop yields. The dryer efficiently preserves crops for a longer shelf life in market.

Bradley developed the dryer for Educational Concerns for Haiti Organization, a faith-based nonprofit that specializes in global agriculture development. With farmers losing as much as 60 percent of their crops from spoilage and wild animal raids, the innovation solves two pressing problems for rural economies.

“The best thing about this project was helping people’s lives become more efficient,” said Jacob Martini, of Ottawa, Illinois. “It meant a lot to see my senior project go to help farms in Thailand because I want to help people with my engineering skills.”

Students modified a four-year-old dryer design for new crops and target markets. They were challenged to make equipment out of inexpensive, easily accessible materials for Thai farmers. While the old model used plywood, the new one took advantage of iron, brick and plastic.

Additionally, the dryer can be made in different sizes to meet farmers’ needs. Solar vents and drying instructions also can be modified to account for different sun angles and climate conditions in countries outside Thailand.

Students labored through the year to turn concept into reality. They worked through localized concerns of materials and wild animal raids to construct the dryer’s framework. Team members developed software to determine how local climate variables would affect the drying process in different locations around the world.

They also worked on a budget of $3,000, which they had to raise from scratch. Grants, donations and prize money from Bradley’s Brave Pitch competition allowed the team to meet its financial goal.

Team members gained satisfaction from seeing the process from idea to reality, knowing it would make a real world impact.

“It was a good chance to get our hands dirty to create something,” said Colton Wojnowski, of Lemont, Illinois. “We gained tools along the way that we got to use in a realistic simulation of what we could do after college, and it was good to have that experience.”

The team also included a tribute on the dryer to former classmate Ashley Borja, who died in 2016.