IIT-KGP engineers have developed a solar-powered cold storage system that works at zero running cost as a solution to the wastage of agricultural produce in India. Developed at the Science and Technology entrepreneurship Park (STEP) of IIT-Kharagpur by mechanical engineering students Vivek Pandey, Prateek Singhal and Devendra Gupta, the micro cold storage system has been tested and proved in a farmland in Karnataka.
The cold storage system will be developed under the banner of Ecofrost Technologies which is an agri-focused company creating solutions to overcome problems in cold chain infrastructure. The company envisions to disrupt the current state of food supply chain in India by empowering farmers, mandi owners and mobile cold chain players with clean technology for a sustainable future.
The project has been in the works for a while as this above 2013 video suggests but concrete plans for rolling out he unit are being made now. The team has setup a production unit in Pune which is up and running.
The need for such solutions is huge. In India alone, 10 million tons of cold storage capacity is required to prevent the over 30% wastage of perishable produce. The current facilities are accessible only to the big farmers/middlemen who hoard when supplies peak, leading to huge price fluctuations. The bottom of the pyramid (BOP) i.e. the small farmer loses out, as they have to sell their produce at very low prices right after harvest. The product primarily designed for the rural segment serves their needs ideally, as it does not depend on grid electricity and after a 2-year breakeven, leads to over 40% increase in their profits.
There is no running costs for this unit and it works on sustainable technology throughout the year. Using solar panels, a thermal storage methodology controls compartment cooling in tandem with regular cooling this micro cold storage increases the shelf life of agricultural produce. The power generated is sent to the compressor, running at various speeds to adjust to the cooling demand. Instead of batteries, there is a thermal storage unit which can store power for more than 36 hours for cloudy or rainy weather.
The micro cold storage system has a capacity of 5 metric tons (and the price is yet to be finalized), mainly meant for horticulture purposes. A target to manufacture 20,000 cold storage units in the next five years has been set up from Pune unit. The team plans to sell units directly to farmers and create village-level entrepreneurs who will act as nodal points for cold storage in markets where a farmer can store his produce at a fixed cost.
Update: There were a few updates made to the article three hours after it was first published. The price point was removed (since different versions have different prices) and the discrepancies with the specs of the device were cleared.