The U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded a $600,000 grant to a West Lafayette-based agricultural technology startup co-founded by Purdue University professors. JUA Technologies International will use the funding to further develop its solar-powered crop dehydration technology.
The company was co-founded by Klein Ileleji, CEO and Chief Technology Officer, professor of agricultural and bioengineering at Purdue University.
A Small Business Innovation Research Phase II grant, the funding will support the design and manufacturing proof-of-concept of the company’s multi-purpose solar dryer Dehymeleon.
JUA Technologies previously developed and now markets the Dehytray product, which uses solar power to dry grains, produce, fish and meat to preserve nutrients and extend shelf life.
This technology has been tested in many developing countries. Two years ago, Purdue announced that the company had struck a deal with Brazil-based BrazAgro Ltd. to distribute his Dehytrays to multiple countries in East Africa.
A Dehymeleon is a solar dryer that can hold multiple Dehytrays while also storing additional solar energy for use as a generator. Ilerji says that using solar power can bring more benefits to users than traditional food dryers.
“Food dehydrator is typically powered by gas, electricity or fuel oil, so it is an energy-intensive process with huge operating costs,” says Ileleji. “High operating costs limit the ability of small and medium-sized growers and processors in the United States to produce dehydrated foods. Post-harvest losses of nutrient-rich horticultural crops can be as high as 50%. In developing tropical countries, sanitary dehydration of food using the abundant solar energy available in these parts not only supports nutritional security but also provides opportunities for growers. to increase income from value-added processing.”
Ileleji said the technology will improve the way specialty crops are processed in ways that increase their quality and nutritional value. It also allows small and medium-sized farmers to add value to their crops and increase their incomes, while providing affordable renewable energy-based technology.
JUA Technologies plans to use the funds to support Dehymeleon’s four research and development goals. This includes modeling and simulation to optimize performance and beta prototyping of products for manufacturing.
The company plans to test the technology’s field performance using fruits, vegetables, spices and herbs grown in Indiana and California.
In 2019, JUA Technologies received a USDA SBIR Phase I grant totaling $100,000 for further development of the technology. Funding came in a $50,000 match from Indianapolis-based Elevate Ventures.
Earlier this year, Ileleji was named Indiana and the Great Lakes Region’s Exporter of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration.
In a May interview with IIB reporter Wes Mills, Ileleji said exports offer big opportunities for small business owners.
“When we think of small businesses, we sometimes think that small businesses are just doing things here, doing business within the state. We export our products abroad,” says Ileleji.