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Back to the future: A solar oven project

In today’s world, it seems as if we are always searching for the next big thing, the more high-tech the better. Yet sometimes we forget that whoever did it first sometimes did it better.
In this case, that is exactly the assumption we are making, and it has the potential for huge advances in sustainability and food technology. Using solar energy as a means of drying food has been in practice since 7th century B.C., and now we are coming back to that idea in order come up with a solution to the food waste problem in our world. It is cheap, effective and sustainable.
Over the past year, I have been working with Animal and Veterinary Sciences faculty member Dr. Gustavo Lascano to develop a system for harnessing and utilizing solar energy to convert supermarket waste into feed that can be used for livestock. To accomplish this, I have just finished building a solar oven prototype developed by Appalachian State University. 
Although still in its initial stages, we believe that by utilizing this solar oven, we will be able to dry any produce that grocery stores (or dining halls like Schilletter and Harcombe) can’t use, whether due to small defects or lack of consumer appeal. This dried produce could be turned over to a processing company that could grind and incorporate the dried fruits and vegetables into animal feeds. Very little research has been done into this method of utilizing grocery waste for products such as animal feed thus far, but our hope is that the utilization of solar ovens on a commercial level will benefit all parties involved. The farmers would be able to get inexpensive, local feeds, while the grocery stores and dining halls would be able to reduce waste and even initiate their own sustainability programs.  If utilized across the country at large scale operations, this project has the potential to make use of thousands of tons of produce on a daily basis, which would otherwise be wasted — a win by anyone’s standards.

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