The School of Engineering at the University of St. Thomas, with Minnesota-based nonprofit Compatible Technology International, announces its first “Peace Engineering” contest.

The department and CTI seek teams of two to three people to design, build and deliver a breadfruit-drying device to the Breadfruit Institute, a subdivision of the National Tropical Botanical Garden in Kauai, Hawaii, this March. The contest is open to the public.

Camille George

Camille George

Breadfruit is an underutilized staple crop long recognized for its potential to provide food security in tropical regions. One breadfruit tree produces, on average, 200 fruits per season – a higher yield per acre than wheat and corn – with each fruit averaging just below two pounds. The fruit, named for its bread-like fragrance, is high in carbohydrates and contains many minerals and vitamins.

Dr. Camille George, an associate professor in the School of Engineering at St. Thomas and a contest organizer, said: “Tropical island-nations are getting more populous, and islands also have limited land space that aren’t conducive to growing wheat or corn. The outcome of this project could impact many people.”

The contest seeks a device that will help increase the fruit’s shelf life by drying the shreds. The dried fruit then will be milled into flour, which is naturally gluten-free.

George said a significant challenge in taking advantage of this food source is its short shelf life once it is picked. “Drying takes out 70 percent of the water in the fruit, making the crops much easier to move,” she noted. “If these designs work, it’ll be huge.”

Submitted designs should be simple, robust, affordable, scalable and easy to take down and transport.

George said the latter criterion is crucial: “There are other dryers in the world – that are big, bulky and permanent – but we hope this one will be innovative in its simplicity. We’re looking for a dryer that will benefit people harvesting breadfruit in remote locations by providing a dryer that is easy to put up and take down, and light enough to carry back to their villages.”

The winning design will be implemented in Jamaica and Haiti to increase food security and promote small business ventures to stimulate local economies. It also will be built and put on display at the NTBG’s future interactive center, “Food for Thought,” at the Breadfruit Institute’s headquarters in Kauai.

Teams should email George by Jan. 15, 2012, of their intent to submit. Final drier designs must be submitted by Feb. 1 to: University of St. Thomas, Peace Engineering Initiative, School of Engineering OSS 100, 2115 Summit Ave., St. Paul, MN 55105.

Two winning teams will be announced on Feb. 6. First place will receive $3,000; second place will receive $500. Funds also will be available for the winning team to send  a representative to Kauai in March to build and demonstrate its structure to the board of trustees of the NTBG in March.

St. Thomas’ history of working with breadfruit dates back to 2003-04 when student-teams from the School of Engineering, French Department and Communication and Journalism Department traveled to St. Vincent and collaborated on preliminary designs for shredding and drying breadfruit.

In 2009 a second team of engineering students studied the entire process of using breadfruit, from harvesting to shredding to drying to grinding it into flour.

For more information on breadfruit and how it can alleviate hunger worldwide, visit the Breadfruit Institute.