The huge global problem of food wastage was brought into sharp focus this week, thanks to the “think, eat and save” theme of World Environment Day, held on Wednesday. In Australia, it was reported, households throw away one out of every five bags of groceries they buy – or around $1036 worth of food a household a year.
For modern Australia, this is an appalling statistic – and we can do much better. But imagine what the wastage would be like without access to adequate refrigeration? As the CSIRO’s Kirsten Lea noted earlier this week, that is precisely the challenge facing rural India today.
In countries like India, around 22 per cent of agriculture produce is spoiled at the point of production due to inadequate refrigerated storage facilities – a situation which is largely due the lack of reliable power supply in rural Indian communities.
“Every year, millions of tonnes of fresh produce spoils before it reaches consumers,” writes Lea – the equivalent of over 22,000 semi-trailers filled with fresh produce going directly to the rubbish tip, instead of feeding a growing population.
In an attempt to remedy this situation, Australia’s CSIRO has partnered with India’s TERI (The Energy and Resource Institute) on a project to develop the world’s first prototype of a biomass powered refrigeration system.
The AusAid-funded project, known as Cool Village Power, is developing a system that will burn woody waste (like fast growing weeds) to generate electricity to power refrigeration.
Dr Stephen White from the CSIRO’s energy technology group says his team’s role in the project was to design, construct and test a cooling system suitable for storing agricultural products.
“The system needs to achieve cool temperatures for refrigeration, be robust and require only simple, low-cost maintenance,” says White. “The work has come out of our Energy Transformed Flagship, but it also allows us to work with our colleagues in the Animal, Food and Health Sciences Division to understand the physiology of fruits and vegetables.”
The chiller is powered by a biomass gasifier which generates electricity. Whenever the biomass system is functioning, the cold storage system will operate independently of the grid.
The demonstration site is a village in northern India’s Uttar Pradesh, where an electrified and cold storage facility has been set up to store local produce. It is hoped that future implementation of such technology could help reduce poverty in rural communities around the world by lowering food spoilage and improving the provision of electricity.
For more information, the CSIRO has produced a podcast on Cool Village Power.