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Solar Powered Dehydrator
This paper describes a research project initiated after a faculty trip to a rural community in the Zacapa region of Guatemala. Much of the fruit that could be harvested and sold goes to waste, as too much becomes ripe simultaneously. The local community identified this issue, and the faculty team began brainstorming methods for avoiding the food waste, and ideally helping the local community generate profits from this fruit. One solution that is being explored is dehydration. The fruit can be dehydrated prior to rotting, which extends its shelf life, as well as facilitates it being sold in other areas. An initial solar dehydrator design was adopted from previous research. Modifications were made to that design to accommodate the location of the use. The dehydrator uses natural solar energy to heat a chute and uses convection to provide hot airflow through an area that contains racks of fruit. Temperature measurements were taken in a variety of locations throughout the dehydrator. A variety of fruits may be used in this dehydrator design, but for testing purposes, this research primarily uses bananas, mangos and apples. The dehydration process and overall dehydrator design is an optimization problem between heat and airflow. Other variables managed for proper testing include humidity, fruit thickness, fruit mass in the drying chamber, and dehydrator materials and design. In preliminary testing, the desired temperatures are achieved, but the fruit’s water content is higher than desired, resulting in a chewy texture. Once faculty have finalized the preliminary design, students will be assigned projects in multiple classes to optimize different aspects of the design and help generate feasible business models for implementation. This paper will discuss how this research to application model can be used for other similar projects using best practices for project-based learning in the classroom.