Rapid freeze drying system

EPA Contract Number: 68HERC21C0024
Title: Rapid freeze drying system
Investigators: Dunn, Kyle
Small Business: Dunn Infinite Designs
EPA Contact: Richards, April
Phase: I
Project Period: March 1, 2021 through August 31, 2021
Project Amount: $99,750
RFA: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) - Phase I (2021) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) , SBIR - Sustainability


Over 30% of the food produced in the U.S. is wasted, including the embodied energy and fresh water used to produce it. Food waste accounts for 20% of landfill contents, leading to substantial and avoidable greenhouse gas emissions. Adoption of freeze drying by farmers, food processors and grocery retailers provides an economically viable path to address these challenges. Farmers will recover unmarketable, cosmetically imperfect produce by offering it as a non-fresh alternative. Processors will extend inventory storage space without additional freezer units. Retailers will recover would-be spoilage by freeze drying unsold inventory before it expires, converting a cost into a revenue stream. Freeze drying is a proven technology at various scales, the key innovations needed are: 1) reduced energy input costs and 2) faster processing times. The following project aims to achieve each of these using a unique combination of low-cost thermal energy sources and rapid microwave heating The benefit for farmers, food processors and retailers is three-fold: 1) reduction in bottom line expenses through captured product waste (without new freezer space), 2) expansion in top line revenue through expansion into new retail markets (bulk freeze dried produce) 3) landfill diversion leading to reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

The potential market is substantial; U.S. businesses, farms and consumers spend an estimated $218 billion a year to grow, process, transport and dispose of food that is never eaten. Roughly 10% (~43 billion pounds) of food in grocery stores never makes it off the shelf and 30% of a grocery store’s trash is food waste. For fresh produce, about 12% of fruit and 11.5% of vegetables are never sold. Preserving food prior to the onset of spoilage can recover a significant portion of this waste. In addition to the reduced spoilage, the performance of the proposed system offers improved performance compared to similar freeze drying systems already on the market: 1) 50% reduction in energy input costs by using distributed renewable and biomass sources, 2) 50% reduction in processing time by utilizing a modular chamber design and microwave heating. Recovering 5% of the total food waste can save ~80B megajoules of energy, ~400B gallons of water, and ~4.5M tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year. The system outlined in the following proposal is a mobile design and is commercialized as a freeze drying service performed on-site and on-demand.