Keep­ing milk cool

To re­duce pro­duc­tion cost for farm­ers and ef­fec­tively use the elec­tric­ity avail­able, two techies have built a ma­chine to re­frig­er­ate milk with­out power, writes Sneha Bhat­tachar­jee

Business Standard - - DEMOCRACY AT WORK -

In­dia is the world’s largest pro­ducer of milk with an out­put of 165 mil­lion tonnes in 2016-17. Most of the milk comes from ru­ral ar­eas where dairy farm­ing is not easy. Un­re­li­able and er­ratic elec­tric­ity sup­ply re­sults in least 3 per cent of the milk be­ing wasted.

This is be­cause milk needs to be cooled at source in or­der to in­crease its shelf life, which dairy farm­ers are not able to do eas­ily. To pro­vide re­frig­er­a­tion, milk pro­duc­ers have to de­pend on diesel gen­er­a­tors that make the cool­ing process ex­pen­sive. To re­duce the pro­duc­tion cost for farm­ers, and to ef­fec­tively use the elec­tric­ity al­ready avail­able, two for­mer techies de­cided to de­velop a cool­ing tech­nol­ogy that would help keep milk cool even with­out power.

Founded in 2015, In­fi­cold is a bulk milk cool­ing ven­ture started by Nitin Goel and Hi­man­shu Pokharna, who had worked with In­tel in de­vel­op­ing elec­tronic cool­ing sys­tems for com­put­ers. Their ven­ture uses so­lar power to pro­vide re­frig­er­a­tion for milk. While Goel's back­ground in ther­mal sci­ence made him as­so­ci­ate with ther­mal en­ergy stor­age at the out­set, the idea of us­ing so­lar power for re­frig­er­a­tion came to them when the two were work­ing on a so­lar power project in In­dia. It made them re­alise the po­ten­tial so­lar en­ergy has, if it could be stored for use later, to light up ar­eas with­out power, or prone to power out­ages.

So, how does the cool­ing sys­tem work? In Goel’s words, they tap power us­ing so­lar as well as grid elec­tric­ity, then con­vert it into ice which can be stored and used at a later stage. It pro­vides round-the-clock cool­ing with just 7 hours of grid/so­lar power. It is dif­fer­ent form other cool­ing sys­tems in two ways: In­fi­cold’s sys­tem is not only us­ing power pro­duced from so­lar or grid, it is also mak­ing a re­frig­er­a­tion sys­tem that comes with world’s first retro-fit­table cool­ing sys­tem. That is, one can eas­ily fit it into the milk cool­ers. “The ther­mal stor­age method­ol­ogy used by most com­pa­nies is prim­i­tive es­pe­cially in the way they ex­tract elec­tric­ity from ice,” says Goel, adding that is pre­cisely what In­fi­cold is try­ing to break.

“A farmer not only saves on the cost of diesel gen­er­a­tor but is also giv­ing a thought to the en­vi­ron­ment,” he adds. The two ways by which most farm­ers use cool­ing agents are ei­ther diesel gen­er­a­tors or lead acid bat­ter­ies. While the pre­vi­ous one harms the en­vi­ron­ment and at the same time, makes a farmer spend al­most three times his ac­tual milk cool­ing cost, the lat­ter has a short life and needs to be re­placed fre­quently. In com­par­i­son, the hard­ware of the ice cool­ers used by In­fi­cold, Goel says, can last up to 20 years. “Milk cool­ing is typ­i­cally done in the morn­ing and evening hours. When there is a power cut dur­ing milk cool­ing pe­riod, these milk cool­ers re­quire elec­tric­ity to gen­er­ate cool­ing. A milk cooler's op­er­a­tional cost is 10-12 paisa/litre with grid elec­tric­ity and 120-140 paisa/litre with diesel gen­er­a­tor,” he adds.

The com­pany's ther­mal stor­age units are cur­rently op­er­a­tional in milk co­op­er­a­tives and large pri­vate dairies in Pun­jab, Haryana, Ut­tar Pradesh, Gu­jarat, Tamil Nadu and North East In­dia. “We are work­ing closely with the Na­tional In­sti­tute of So­lar En­ergy (NISE), an au­ton­o­mous re­search in­sti­tute of Min­istry of New and Re­new­able En­ergy for so­lar in­te­gra­tion of milk cooler,” says Goel. The com­pany has al­ready had seven in­stal­la­tions, with the old­est one be­ing op­er­a­tional since March last year. They work with Farmer Pro­ducer Or­gan­i­sa­tions to pro­vide their fa­cil­ity to farm­ers. This low-cost tech­nol­ogy has brought the team mul­ti­ple awards.

In March 2017, the com­pany col­lab­o­rated with the NISE to help make in­te­grated cool­ing sys­tem pow­ered by so­lar en­ergy for state level hor­ti­cul­tural and agri­cul­tural de­part­ments. Goel feels this area needs this in­ven­tion dearly if farm­ers are look­ing to ex­port their pro­duce. The cur­rent chal­lenges pos­ing this sec­tor are that what­ever a farmer pro­duces has to be sold im­me­di­ately be­cause of a lack of stor­age fa­cil­i­ties. Fur­ther, most cold stor­age fa­cil­i­ties are used by large farm­ers, while the small farm­ers are left with no op­tion but to sell their pro­duce im­me­di­ately. Ac­cord­ing to Goel, this sit­u­a­tion is fur­ther ag­gra­vated by the lack of ac­cep­tance of newer tech­nolo­gies and risk-tak­ing abil­i­ties of In­dian farm­ers. This holds true for the dairy in­dus­try as well. But Goel is happy to note the small changes in the way the states are com­ing to­gether to use this en­vi­ron­ment-friendly, as well as ef­fec­tive mode of cool­ing agent.

The cool­ing vault de­vel­oped by In­fi­cold pro­vides round-the-clock cool­ing with just 7 hours of so­lar or grid power

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