Dr. Dirk Burkhardt, professor of neuroscience at St. George’s University and cofounder of Grenada Solar Power Ltd. (GrenSol), may have revolutionized the nutmeg processing procedure at the Gouyave nutmeg plant, creating a unique solar dryer that cuts drying time in half, eliminates the need for stirring or herbicides, and reduces hazard to the workers.
And to top it off, the device maintains the excellent quality of the nutmegs, of which Grenada is the world’s second largest producer.
“We asked the customers to compare the solar dried nutmegs to conventionally dried nutmegs, and we also used gas chromatography,” Dr. Burkhardt said. “The quality was perfect.”
Dr. Burkhardt has successfully piloted the dryer over the past year, and as a result of its success, the Grenada Cooperative Nutmeg Association (GCNA) plans to implement solar drying on a large scale in upcoming years. It would replace the conventional method for processing nutmegs – air drying the nutmegs, stirring regularly, and spraying with herbicides – which has been both time consuming and potentially harmful by exposing workers at the plant to dust and chemicals.
Designing the solar dryer posed several challenges for Dr. Burkhardt. The system had to be cheap and fit the limited space available on the plant’s compound in the heart of the town of Gouyave. Dr. Burkhardt recycled a 20-foot shipping container and installed multiple shelves. The unit fits snuggly in a small space next to the Gouyave plant and can dry up to 1.5 tons at a time. Although there is limited sun and wind at the location to heat and ventilate the unit, Dr. Burkhardt has managed to balance the temperature of the unit so that nutmegs dry quickly but keep their valuable oils. Extractor fans and solar water heaters regulate the temperature day and night. Dr. Burkhardt continues to tweak the dryer’s design to achieve maximum efficiency.
Dr. Burkhardt’s next project for the GCNA is developing small solar dryers for nutmeg mace. These will be owned by the farmers and will dry mace faster and under more hygienic conditions. GCNA is also looking into recycling larger shipping containers, which will be necessary once plans to fully restore Grenada’s nutmeg industry come to fruition.
Piloting the nutmeg solar dryers and the eventual shift to this system are part of a larger project aimed at improving the occupational health and safety of workers in Grenada’s nutmeg plant and revitalizing the island’s nutmeg industry. Collaborating partners include: SGU’s Department of Public Health and Preventive Medicine (DPHPM), the World Health Organization Collaborating Center in Environmental and Occupational Health, the Windward Islands Research and Education Foundation (WINDREF), GCNA and Grenada’s Ministry of Agriculture.
Dr. Dirk Burkhardt, who was born in Germany, moved to Grenada in 2002 with his wife, Valerie Daniel, who is from Grenada. Dr. Burkhardt teaches neuroscience at SGU and is a consulting psychiatrist for the University’s Psychological Services Centre. He also serves the Government of Grenada at the psychiatric clinic in Grand Bras, St. Andrew and assists the courts as a forensic psychiatrist. In addition to psychiatry and neuroscience, Dr. Burkhardt is an expert in the fields of civil and environmental engineering.