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Fruit Drying Tunnels Design & Operation

Report prepared for USAID/ADP September 27 October 13, 2006

STTC Jim Valentine


INTRODUCTION............................................................................................................. 3 DRYING TUNNEL DESIGN PARAMETERS.............................................................. 4 FINDINGS AND RECCOMENDATIONS..................................................................... 7 1. Indirect heating system used by most of the processors. ............................................ 7 2. Direct heating and modern gas distributors installed will generate gas savings. ........ 7 4. Avoid fruits bleeding during drying............................................................................ 9 6. Varieties for drying. .................................................................................................. 10 8. Grading is important.................................................................................................. 10 9. Humidity measuring devices. .................................................................................... 11 10. Moisture analyzers to monitor the quality of dried products. .............................. 11 APPENDIX I. CALIFORNIA DRIED PLUM BOARD.............................................. 12 APPENDIX II. NATURAL GAS COMPOSITION..................................................... 13 APPENDIX III. CALIFORNIA PRIMARY PLUM VARIETIES FOR DRYING .. 13

Production of dried fruits and vegetables in Moldova is considered a traditional type of product preservation. Moldova was one of the main suppliers of dried products to the Soviet Union, with total production of about 10,000 tons annually. Production of dried products decreased dramatically in the 90s during the economic decline following the Soviet Unions collapse. As a result, the post-harvest infrastructure, processing facilities, and general supply chain linkages have fallen into disrepair or have been abandoned. Meanwhile, the lack of working capital to maintain existing orchards and investment capital to plant new orchards forced new small farmers to transform many orchards into fields used for grain production. The mostly widely used drying method in Moldova is convective drying in tunnels. Convective tunnels are also common in other countries with traditions in drying, especially USA and France, where tunnels are used mainly for drying plums - because of high loading capacity, good results in terms of end products and lower costs. In the last two years, signs of revitalization of the Moldovan fruits and vegetables drying sector can be seen. Due to growing demand for dried products and good margins, investments were made to rehabilitate drying facilities & infrastructure, to recover plums orchards, and to identify new export markets. As seen in Table 1 below, since 2002 Moldova has consistently increased its exports of dried fruits and vegetables. The 2006 export volumes are expected to be even higher due to higher plum yields. Table 1: Dried Fruits & Vegetables, Volume & Value Year Export Value, K$ Export Volume, tons 2002 463 2003 800 2004 1,792 2005 3,761 Source: United Nations Commodity Trade Statistics Database 490 717 2,146 2,844

Prunes account for approximately 80% of Moldovan dried products. Two prune varieties are predominantly grown in Moldova: Stanley and Anna Spath. Moldovan plums are harvested by hand. After harvesting, fruits are taken to drying facilities where they are washed, placed on large trays, dried and later stocked for further processing and packaging. Traditionally prunes are dehydrated until moisture content has been reduced to about 18%. For heat production in tunnels mainly liquid fuel/diesel was used. Recently, some Moldovan drying facilities have been connected to a natural gas pipeline. It is reasonable to expect that, where possible, the drying facilities will move from diesel to natural gas in order to reduce the energy costs.

The present report is focused on improving the design and operation of drying tunnels used in Moldova, reducing production and drying costs for processors..


Listed below is a generic description of a good tunnel design.

Figure 1. Drying tunnel design (cross flow) The single most important idea to remember when designing a drying tunnel for fruits and vegetables is that air will always follow the path of least resistance. Tunnels must be designed in such a way as to force the hot air over the product being dried. The tunnel can be designed for either cross flow or linear flow along the length of the tunnel. In either case, the same design principle applies. To force the air flow over the fruit, the trolley design should allow the trays to nest on each other to form a solid side wall. The solid sidewalls prevent air from flowing out the sides of the tray. The concept of wooden tray stacked to form a solid wall only works when the trays are stacked on a dolly. When a trolley is used, the sides of the trolley must be blocked off with rubber baffles and the tray separation maintained in the 5 centimeter range.

Wooden trays are normally stacked up to 25 high, but the height of the stack may be limited by the tunnel height. When stacked to form a solid wall on two sides of the trays, the opening for the airflow over the fruit should be about 5 centimeters. A 5 centimeter gap between the sidewall of the tray stack and the side wall of the tunnel should be maintained. Rubber baffles should be installed on the sidewalls, ceiling and floor to limit the amount of air flowing around the stacked trays of fruit. The trays should be stacked high enough to limit the gap between the ceiling and the top tray to about 5 centimeters. With this type of configuration, the air will be forced over each of the trays at about the same velocity because each of the gaps between the trays offers the same resistance and the air will enter the open spaces at the same rate. The air has no other place to go except over the fruit. Note that the tray must be flat in the direction of the airflow. No lip should be added to contain the fruit. It will not go anywhere, and the lip would interfere with the airflow and cause dead spots near the lip and uneven drying across the length of the tray. The drying tunnel design is usually two stories for the linear tunnel and a single story for the cross flow dryer. The second story of the linear tunnel is where the incoming air is heated and forced over the fruit on the first story. The drawings previously provided illustrate basic tunnel design. The second story of the tunnel contains a heat source and a fan. The air enters the tunnel just behind the heat source. The fan draws the air over the heat source where it is heated to the desired temperature and then forces the air down through a wide opening to the first story where it flows over the fruit. It has no place else to go because the doors that are shown as opened in the drawing are closed during operation. They are opened only when a dolly full of trays is placed in the tunnel. The opening through which the air passes from the second story to the first story is wide in order that the transfer of air to the first story does not create any unnecessary back pressure on the fan. The only backpressure should come from the air being forced over the fruit through the small openings between each tray. Any back pressure other than that only leads to inefficient airflow. As the air exits the last stack of trays, it is exhausted into the atmosphere. Again, there should be no unnecessary back pressure created on the fan because of restrictions of the airflow at the exhaust end. If the tunnels are located indoors, the exhaust air should be discharged outside the building through chimney-like vents. Note that there is also an opening between the two floors of the tunnel just behind and below the heater. This opening allows for some of the hot air to be re-circulated through the system, thus conserving on energy. Care must be taken that the moist air being re-circulated does not raise the humidity of the incoming air to an unacceptable level. Temperature controls are installed at the hot end of the unit. Humidity controls are installed at the cool end of the tunnel to measure the moisture in the air being discharged. Humidity is controlled through airflow. The doors on the second story at the intake end of the tunnel (where the burner is located) are usually sliding doors so that the opening can be easily adjusted. If the humidity is too high, the doors are opened wider in order to allow more fresh air into the system and reducing the humidity. If the humidity is too

low, the opening is reduced, thus limiting the amount of fresh air coming into the system and increasing the humidity. Note that the amount of re-circulated air coming into the system is also controlled by the door openings. If the door opening is reduced, the air pressure in front of the fan is reduced and the amount of re-circulated air increases, and vice versa when the door opening is increased. In practice, the door opening once set seldom needs adjustment. A fan output of 2,000 to 2,500 cubic meters per minute should be adequate for one or two rows of trays. The heating element should have an output of approximately 250,000 kilocalories. In a cross flow system the fan and heater on one side of the system are equivalent to the second story in the linear tunnel system and the large empty space in front of the fan allows for a simulation of the linear tunnel with a cool end and a hot end Air velocity will be the same throughout the tunnel, although the humidity and temperature of the air will probably vary. The significance of the variations in water content of the final product cannot be determined without empirical data from the tunnel itself. It may not be significant if sweating equalizes the moisture content to an acceptable level. In any case, the drying time can be prolonged so that the fruit is at an acceptable level of dryness after sweating.

A summary of these recommendations follows: 1. Use a propeller type fan with a minimum output of 2,000 cubic meters per minute. 2. Purchase a heat source with at least 250,000 kilo-calorie output. The heat source can be either gas or electricity operated. Gas is a better option because it is immediately responsive to changes in output temperatures. With electricity, there is residual heat that may take time to dissipate. Operating costs should drive your choice. 3. The second story should totally enclose the fan, the heat source and the opening for the air to enter the hot end of the tunnel. The enclosure should have sliding doors in front of the fan to adjust the intake airflow. An opening about 2/3s the width of the tunnel and about 30 centimeters wide should be built in the floor between the heat source and the fan to allow air from the cool end of the tunnel to re-circulate in the system, conserving energy. 4. The opening for the air to enter the hot end of the tunnel should be the width of the tunnel and about 50 to 70 centimeters from top to bottom. 5. The opening at the exhaust end should be, at a minimum, the same size as the inlet opening. The air should be exhausted to the outside to prevent buildup of temperature and humidity inside the building. 6. The sides of the trolleys facing the tunnel walls should be closed to prevent air from flowing out the sides. The closed sides of the trolleys should be within five centimeters of each sidewall of the tunnel. 7. Purchase humidity sensors to install at the exhaust end (cool end) of the tunnel. For all products, the relative humidity at the exhaust end should be maintained at 60%. 8. Temperature sensors must be installed at the hot end of the tunnel. In general, the temperature at the hot end is maintained at 65 0C degrees.


Ten different processors were visited by Jim Valentine during his stay in Moldova (September 27 October 13, 2006). There were several areas of concern that were common among most of the processors:

1. Indirect heating system used by most of the processors. Part of the legacy of the Soviet Union was a cumbersome and inefficient system for heating the air. Originally, it was designed for diesel fueled driers where direct heating would have resulted in undesirable residues on the fruit. The indirect heating system consists of a large diameter pipe (40 cm or more) with another iron pipe inside and the heating chamber for burning the fuel inside the inner pipe (Figure 1). A fan pulls or pushes the air between the outer and inner pipes and the chamber in which the diesel fuel is burning heats the air. Such a system is inefficient because the opening between the pipes restricts airflow and heating all the iron piping and maintaining temperature during the entire dwell time wastes energy. With the increasing popularity of natural gas, the technology did not change to take advantage of the efficiencies achievable with gas burners.
Most of the processors visited that had converted to gas were still using the old indirect heating system. Gas was used because it was cheaper than diesel fuel. In some cases, the processors were continuing to use diesel because natural gas was not yet available.

Figure 2. Indirect heating system at one of the Moldovan drying facility

2. Direct heating and modern gas distributors installed will generate gas savings.
Presentations on the advantages of direct heating of the air were presented to all the processors. Direct heating means that the gas distributor is installed directly in the upper level of the drying tunnel avoiding the chamber for burning. The ones who had gas available were encouraged to convert their systems during the off season so that they could start taking advantage of the savings at the beginning of next season. The savings

estimates range from 20% to 40% depending on the characteristics of the tunnels, the drying temperatures, air velocity and the effectiveness of management in controlling drying parameters. Figure 3. Direct heating system at one of the Moldovan drying facility For those processors that did not yet have natural gas available, it was suggested that the conversion be made as soon as gas became available. It must be kept in mind that natural gas prices last year were 1.42 lei per cubic meter. This year, the price is 2.96 lei per cubic meter. In January 2007, there will be another price increase. It is imperative that energy conservation be one of the primary considerations of the processor in order to stay competitive and remain in business, given that 30% - 40% of their costs are related to heating. Because the old Soviet gas distributors will not operate in the semi-closed environment of the upper level of the drying tunnel, a more modern gas distributor that allows for the adjustment of the gas air mixture and operates well inside the upper level of the tunnel was recommended in case of direct heating. The more complete combustion plus the thermostatic control to maintain a constant temperature at the hot end of the tunnel can result in even more energy savings, in part, because the short iron pipe used as an open combustion chamber will be eliminated. The gas distribution system should be placed about 1 to 2 meters from the air intake entrance. It was recommended that one be purchased to replace the old Soviet style distributor that was originally built for diesel fuel. The new distributor will allow the iron pipe that currently houses the flame to be omitted and further reductions in energy usage realized. Complete combustion is realized by adjusting the flame to burn blue instead of the orange that is characteristic of incomplete combustion.

3. Put tunnels outside. When building new tunnels, it is always best to put them
outside with a roof overhead to protect the workers and products from the weather. If not outside, the discharged moist air will re-circulate through the tunnel again, prolonging the drying cycle unreasonably. With reconditioned tunnels, an alternative is to exhaust air outside via chimney-line vents. Figure 4. Drying tunnels built outside with a roof

Figure 5. Reconditioned tunnels chimney-like vents to exhaust air through the roof (see colored in grey)

4. Avoid fruits bleeding during drying. With one exception, the processors were losing a lot of the sugar content of the plums due to excessive bleeding during drying. This loss means less yield. It also means that the skin of the plum ruptures during drying which affects the appearance of the product. Finally, excessive bleeding makes it difficult to keep the trays and the floor of the tunnel clean, creating a sanitation problem. The bleeding problem is solvable. It is caused partly by too high a temperature and partly by inadequate air velocity. One of the solutions can be to use two tunnels to dry the plums. In the first tunnel, the plums should be dried at temperatures no higher than 60 degrees until the moisture content was reduced by about 50%. The plums then should be transferred to a second tunnel and finished at a temperature of 75-80 degrees. One of the Moldovan drying company solved the problem with bleeding using this method. A second processor with a large cabinet type drier found that he could avoid the problem through staged drying and by increasing the air velocity. In California, staged drying is not practiced, because the plum varieties do not require it. 5. Sanitation. Some of the other concerns encountered in the field were poor sanitation
due in part to the bleeding. Trays and trolleys were not thoroughly cleaned after each cycle. The tunnel floors were sticky with dried plum juice. The environment in the plum preparation area and in the dried fruit storage area was not clean. This included unprotected lighting, walls floor and some of the older equipment that did not have food grade contact parts. The equipment was painted which is always a bad choice since the paint chips and harbors bacteria. The paint may also contain substances that are harmful when ingested. Figure 6. Caramelized plum juice due to excessive fruits bleeding during the drying process

6. Varieties for drying. Processors that plan to plant their own plum orchard were
encouraged to select the best varieties for drying to correspond to global market demand and to avoid bleeding while drying. (See Appendix III).

7. Wooden trays. With two exceptions, the trays where plums are placed for drying
were perforated aluminum. Although easy to clean and durable, aluminum is a poor surface for drying because it retains heat and can burn the fruit or cause caramelization of the sugars. Wooden trays are a better choice. Although a high maintenance item, they will contribute to producing a better product. Wooden trays ideally have a solid wooden bottom made of wide boards that are flush against each other. The trays built in Moldova are thin slats of wood with a gap between the slats. It is almost impossible to clean that area of the tray. A smooth soft wood bottom that will not impart flavor to the fruit is the best choice. Pine is the wood of choice in California.

Figure 7. Trays for drying with bottom and frame from wood

8. Grading is important. It was recommended that each of the processors grade

their plums before drying to optimize the drying process and to ensure the consistent quality of the final product. Grading fruits and vegetables is important not only for the products designated for the fresh market, but also for fruits, especially plums, used for drying. Moldovan processors do not grade plums before drying. However in US and in France processors are grading plums to optimize the energy costs and to make the pitting process easier.

Figure 8. A grader used to grade fresh fruits


9. Humidity measuring devices. It was suggested to all clients that a humiditymeasuring device with remote readout be purchased for installation at the cold end of the tunnel. Because humidity is high in Moldova, monitoring humidity and adjusting the air intake is more important than in drier climates. 10. Moisture analyzers to monitor the quality of dried products. It was
also suggested to all clients that a moisture analyzer that provides an instant readout be purchased to monitor the moisture of final products. Laboratory analysis takes too long to be of any value during the drying process. Additionally, over-drying costs money with no additional premium paid for over-dried plums.



The California Dried Plum Board represents the growers, processors and packers. The Board was established under the authority of the California Secretary of Agriculture and is authorized to direct and manage activities in the following areas: 1. 2. 3. 4. Advertising, public relations and sales promotion Market research Production, processing and nutrition research Education

The Board is composed of 22 members. Seven members are dried plum handlers/packers/processors. Fourteen members are dried plum producers/growers. One member is a non-industry public member. The mission of the board is to expand the worldwide demand for California dried plums. To this end, the Board will develop a domestic generic program for advertising, sales promotion, and public relations, and a consumer educational program on the nutritional value of the dried plum. The Board will also coordinate an international program that may include both generic and non-generic advertising sale promotion and public relations. To improve the quality of the dried plum, the Board conducts research on production and processing. Finally, the Board must develop good working relationships with trade and consumer organizations as well as government agencies. The Board will lobby the government agencies to prevent adverse legislation from being passed and change any legislation which adversely affects the industry. The advertising and sales promotion activities might include TV ads, newspaper/magazine ads, in-store promotions, contests, give-aways etc. Some of these activities, especially the ads, may be directed toward consumer education on the nutritional value of plums. Public relations may include trade shows, relationships with food magazine editors, ads in trade publications, giveaways at fitness events, ads in conjunction with cereal producers, and ads as a substitute for butter, sugar oil, etc in baked goods. The Board also works in conjunction with the Prune Marketing Committee in enforcing California marketing orders for dried plums. The marketing orders restrict the sale of plums that do not reach the minimum size standard of 1.83 cm in length. About 3% to 6% of California plums fail to meet this standard. These plums are then diverted to puree or juice production. There is also a weight standard of .45 kg per 100 plums. Plums that do not meet this standard after size grading are diverted to juice or puree. The Prune Marketing committee has the authority to change the standards, but they never exercise that authority over size and weight. To control the flow of dried plums to the market and to maintain the price and quality of the product on the market, the marketing


committee usually uses the surplus set aside. This is to control the supply to the market by putting dried plums in inventory until a bad crop year or increased demand allow them to be marketed without any market disruption. It should be noted that there are marketing orders for every fruit produced in California and that these marketing orders are enforceable by legal action in the courts that can result in heavy fines for violations.


There was much discussion about the possible residues left by natural gas. The byproducts of burning are water and carbon dioxide, both compounds that are found in abundance in the air that we breather every day. The worlds natural gas supply consists of 80% to 95% methane. The lower percentage is typical of Eastern Europe. Natural gas also contains ethane, propane, butane, hexane, heptane, and octane. All of these gases contain only carbon and hydrogen which produce water and carbon dioxide upon burning. There are also traces of hydrogen sulfide, nitrogen and argon in the natural gas. Nitrogen and argon are inert gases and are found in the air we breathe. The hydrogen sulfide is only in trace quantities that are harmless. The hydrogen sulfide occurs in significant quantities in wine, grape juice and other products that use the sulfur content to inhibit fermentation. There is also an additive in the natural gas that gives it the characteristic odor. This is the safety feature for what is a colorless, odorless gas in its natural state. Note that it is the same gas that restaurant use in their ovens to bake a pizza, bread, and cakes or that the housewife uses in her oven and stove top at home. If there were harmful residues, we would all be ill or dead.


The primary varieties used in California for drying are the French plum, the Improved French Plum and the Sutter. These varieties are characterized by their high Brix. The Sutter is in the 19 degree Brix range. The French varieties are in the 17 degree range. The high Brix plum is the choice of dryers because there is no fermentation around the pit after drying when the dried plums are in storage. It is estimated that 97% of the dried plums in California are from these varieties of fresh plums. Note that the French plum was introduced from France into the United States in the mid 1800s. However, the French Plum originated in Western Asia. The Improved French Plum and was developed in the US. The Sutter was recently developed by the University of California at Davis.