Roger van Engelgem, Agri Technology:

“Storage technology sounds too good to be true”

“The storage system sounds like the ‘umpteenth miracle system,’ it’s true, but this one actually works.” Owner Roger van Engelgem from Agri Technology in Mechelen, Belgium, is visibly enthused about the AiroFresh storage system, which doesn’t use chemical additives to increase the shelf life of fruit and vegetables, but by applying a certain way to purify air. The owner of Agri Technology cooperates with the Australian company AiroFresh, which rents the purification systems to third parties in Belgium and the Netherlands. This new cost saving organic storage technology can result in a change within the fresh produce sector, according to Roger.

Germ-free air
According to the owner of Agri Technology, the AiroFresh ensures the air in certain rooms is purified, without using air filters and chemicals. “The basic technology comes from NASA and from further scientific research for use in the fresh produce sector,” he says. “It ensures that air in the room is fresh and free of germs. This can both be applied for top fruit and soft fruit in the fresh produce sector. In Australia, where the system is already in use, the growers had good results thanks to this storage technology. The AiroFresh doesn’t block further flavour development during storage, as is the case when using ethylene blockers. This is even more pronounced with pears than with apples.”

The smaller AiroFresh can move 120 m3 of air per hour, and has an air treatment capacity of 250 m3.

Storage is outdated
Roger runs his company from his home in Mechelen. “Storing the product makes it more expensive, and it’s not necessary either,” he says. “When customers place an order, the AiroFresh is flown from Australia, where they’re made, after payment. The storage system that decomposes ethylene, volatile organic compounds, that kills bacteria, moulds and viruses, can then be delivered to your doorstep within a week. So why should I store them here?”

Dry rot
One of the problems growers have to deal with besides ethylene is the presence of affected fruit during storage, according to Roger. Because of this, other healthy fruit can also become contaminated. “That way, you get a nest of affected fruit. That isn’t the case with the AiroFresh. Thanks to our system, the fruit’s spot becomes brown and dry, thus preventing a further contamination of the other, healthy fruit. That is because the air is constantly purified. Successful results have also been achieved with apples and pears. A positive additional effect is that odours also disappear,” Roger explains. “The small version weighs nine kilos, and the large one 29 kilos. Because of that, it’s easy to hang the system from the ceiling. It’s a plug-and-go system with a very low energy usage.”

The larger AiroFresh can move 480 m3 of air per hour, and has an air treatment capacity of 1,000 m3.
Maintenance does wonders
As Roger said, it ‘sounds like the umpteenth miracle system.’ Why has it taken until 2017 for a system such as this to have been invented? “Before the car was invented, the wheel had to be invented,” he says. “But there’s more to it. Companies have to make sure the rooms have a good circulation, which is beneficial to AiroFresh. And people don’t always properly maintain the cooling systems, even though this is very important. They might save some money, but in the end it’ll be more expensive. A proper air circulation in a cold store is very important for achieving good storage results.”

Roger expects that the storage systems will be rented in Europe increasingly often. In the country of origin, AiroFresh technology is on the rise. “If you want to mow, you have to sow,” he says. “It’s still completely new here. Growers first have to see it works, before they buy one. It has to be introduced, confirmed, and then it’ll become more popular. People can’t compare it to anything, they have to see for themselves that it works first, and we’re working on that.” 

For more information:
Agri Technology
Leestsesteenweg 109
2800 Mechelen (België)
T: +32 (0)475 665807

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