Using the sun to grow a sustainable agro-food industry in Palermo, Sicily

To support industries in their transition towards environmental sustainability, IDEA, an Italian industrial research and development accelerator working in collaboration with the University of Palermo, launched the FRESCO project in Sicily. Its objective: to address the challenge of making solar energy more widely available and economically viable for various industrial applications in the agro-food sector.

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FRESCO can be applied in the field, while processing or during distribution. © Idea srl FRESCO can be applied in the field, while processing or during distribution. © Idea srl

" FRESCO has been a cornerstone of our strategy for developing advanced solar energy systems in collaboration with best-in-class research institutions. In 2010, we redesigned our company around innovative products in the solar industry, considering our favourable geographical position and the valuable know-how of our R&D institutions. Thanks to the competitiveness and qualifications of the FRESCO technology, we are ready to play our role in the energy transition market. "

Fabio Maria Montagnino, CEO of IDEA

Like many other industries, the agro-food industry is facing the challenge of transitioning away from fossil fuels and towards the use of renewable energy. This shift is being driven not only by a desire to be more sustainable, but also for economic and efficiency reasons. For example, although the fossil fuel-based installations currently used by the agro-food industry supply enormous amounts of heat and cooling throughout the entire value chain, they do so at a high economic and environmental cost. The FRESCO project demonstrated that solar energy can be very effective at generating the heat needed for food processing, as well as delivering the cooling required for preserving perishable goods.

The FRESCO system 

FRESCO is based on the linear Fresnel reflector (LFR) concentration system. Traditionally, these systems followed the sun’s position and used thin-lined mirrors to capture and reflect its rays onto a specific target. The FRESCO project developed a new, optimised and less costly version, specifically designed to be integrated into industrial applications. Compact, light and flexible, the new LFR can be installed on roofs, either to be integrated with greenhouses or pre-fabricated workshops. Integration with thermal storage and absorption chillers is seamless. 

Once installed, the FRESCO collector concentrates solar radiation at about 250°C into a storage tank. In the tank, the radiation is either chilled and used for cool-energy applications, such as air conditioning, or sent throughout the building as heat via a receiver pipe containing a fluid capable of conserving heat at extreme temperatures. The controlling system is set up in such a way that it can optimise the use and distribution of the extracted energy according to the consumption levels of the attached installations and the environmental conditions of the location.

FRESCO’s flexibility means it can serve the entire agro-food chain, including in the field (e.g. climatisation of greenhouses, cold storage of crops) processing (e.g. drying, steaming, boiling, sterilisation of bottles and bowls, temperature control in wine fermentation) and distribution (e.g. cold areas in distribution platforms and malls). 

From pilot to partnership 

To examine possible extensions and other uses of the FRESCO technology, a pilot site was set up on the premises of Palermo University, in the local EU-accredited Solar Living Lab. This was the first solar concentrating pilot plant in Europe developed in an urban setting and used for energy renewal purposes. This pilot programme triggered an effective cooperation between a private company and the public R&D partner, the ITAE institute of the Italian National Research Council. From this partnership, a larger cluster was developed, which remains active under the Solar Living Lab. 

The pilot site also served as a showcase, where potential users from the agro-food sector could come and see FRESCO’s heating and cooling services first hand. 

FRESCO technology is currently in the industrialisation phase and is being considered for a range of pilot applications. 

Total investment and EU funding 

Total investment for the project “FRESCO – Compact LFR solar collector for polygenerative applications” is EUR 729 266, with the EU’s European Regional Development Fund contributing EUR 235 838 through the “Sicily” Operational Programme for the 2007-2013 programming period.


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