QCAP unites seven partners and five associate partners around one goal: to create a monitoring system for fruit and vegetables in storage areas. The success of this project depends on effective teamwork. As the project leader, associate professor Dr Frans Harren (Radboud University, Nijmegen) is tasked with monitoring the progress of the project, working in close consultation with the partners to ensure the project objectives are achieved. How do you make sure everyone carries out their tasks? And how do you ensure everything is well-timed? He shares some details about his work.
Why did you start this project?
“My group specialises in developing gas detectors that can measure very small quantities of gases in complex mixtures. We measure these gases using lasers. At a European meeting I was attending, CSEM (Neuchâtel, Switzerland) put me in contact with NKT Photonics (Copenhagen, Denmark), who specialise in supercontinuum laser sources that are capable of measuring a large number of different gases at the same time. As we already had experience with applications of photonics in agri and food, our first thought was how we could use the laser to monitor fruit and vegetables. Given the huge volumes of produce in Europe, we can achieve a significant impact in the region both economically and in terms of sustainability.”
Are you satisfied with the progress of the project?
“It’s generally going very well. NKT Photonics was able to deliver the new laser very quickly, which got us off to a flying start. We managed to clearly set out the prerequisites for the system early on thanks to some effective liaising among the companies, research institutes and the partners who ultimately have to produce the system. Two prototypes of the monitoring system have now been completed and are currently performing measurements on apples, blueberries and potatoes in York and Cranfield. The first prototype, completed just last year, has already produced some fantastic measurement results on pears in Controlled Atmosphere (CA) storage in Leuven.”
Have there been any hiccups?
“We underestimated how long it would take to develop a sensor for the new laser – more specifically, the sensor’s individual components: the gas treatment system, the software and the electronics. We also needed more time to test the system properly. This delay obviously affects all other parts of the project, so a good bit of teamwork between all partners is essential. I’m glad to see that everyone is trying to be as flexible as possible. We’ve also received a six-month extension from our grant provider, Interreg.”
What do you think the future holds?
“In order to implement the monitoring system, we need to develop a commercial prototype. As Radboud University, we applied for an EU grant together with NKT Photonics, SenseAir (the gas sensor manufacturer) and Storex (QCAP partner), who produces CA preservation equipment. I hope the monitoring system will be commercially available for different fruits and vegetables in 2023.”