How can one make apples in storage last as long as possible? And how does one provide ripe avocados all year round? These are the type of questions that the researchers will try to answer in the new research facility Phenomea, which was finished last week.
It still sounds hollow and smells like fresh paint, but the empty spaces will soon be filled by high-tech testing facilities and lined with machines, such as robotic arms that can determine the quality of a product with high accuracy. In Phenomea, which sprung up next to Axis on Wageningen Campus, research will be carried out into the storage life of fresh produce and the use of robots in the agri-food sector. ‘Many of these research facilities are currently scattered throughout Axis’, says project leader Frank van de Geijn of Wageningen Food & Biobased Research. ‘In Phenomea, we will bring together and house various fields of expertise, such as postharvest technology, robotics, storage, storage life, logistics and packaging.’
An increasing number of requirements are set to the quality of fresh produce, tells Van de Geijn. At the same time, a lot of food is wasted. ‘I would estimate that, in the Netherlands, about 15 to 20 percent of what is produced eventually remains unconsumed. That value is even higher on a global scale. A large improvement is achievable with a relatively small investment in this postharvest phase.’
Phenomea will become a one-stop shop, where partners along the chain, such as in the fruit, vegetable and flower sector, can collaborate with Wageningen researchers to minimise the postharvest losses. For example, there will be robots that can quickly determine the quality of a fruit. Van de Geijn is especially proud of the ATP test space, where research will be carried out into conditioned transport, for medicine or fresh produce, for example. With a push of a button, he opens the sliding door to a huge cooling container in which you could easily park a truck. Van de Geijn: ‘In this space, the performance of various large cooling trailers can be tested. We can set up several compartments within the area, with temperatures varying from -20 to 50 degrees Celsius.’ The researchers then measure the insulation values, cooling abilities and energy consumption.
Save for a few rooms, the building is still empty. The facility will be fully ready for use in October 2017.