Installing Solar Coffee Bean Driers – Guatemala

Bored in retirement? Enjoy this guest post by Ben Etnier who helped install solar coffee bean driers at Lake Atitlan, Guatemala for the local Maya coffee workers. Mix adventure with helping others.

Our first day

Breakfast was served to us at 7:30 a.m. by Erma, the wife of Rufino, and her sister.  It is common practice for the Maya women to be service oriented, and these two sisters cooked us breakfast and lunch on every day except for Sunday. The days we worked in Godinez, supper was provided for us when we returned home.

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After eating, we began to assemble both ourselves and our equipment. To begin making the solar driers, we needed to take the lids off hundreds of 12 ounce soda cans that had been collected by our host, Rufino, and his family.  It takes 289 cans per solar panel and we were making two panels. Right away we found out that these aluminum cans were not the same as we have in the States.  It seemed like almost every can was different and this part of the project proved to be a bit more work than we anticipated.

Solar Coffee Drier 4

Soda cans in tight rows and columns

A glimpse into the future?

The best part about opening the cans was to see Jonathon and Carlos, Rufino’s children, interact with us and wanting to help.  We were so happy to see the children interested in our project!!  Our entire group from Illinois Central College knows that it’s the children who need to be taught, and they are the ones who need to take a hold of our concepts and implement them as they grow older.

At this point we volunteers split into two groups. One worked on opening cans, while the other began to assemble the 4 ft. x 8 ft. solar panel frame to hold them.  The wood here in Guatemala is harder, more crooked and more brittle than the kiln-dried wood we are used to in the States, so because of this, we had to make some adaptations to our frame.

Solar Coffee Drier 2

Completed panels side by side

By the end of the first day we were able to have one panel frame constructed and accomplish a good start on the aluminum can columns.  We will need 17 rows with 17 soda cans per row, painted flat black. Feeling good about the progress made, at this point we were looking forward to another day closer to assembling our panels.

Little did we know what was only a few hours away.

Mother Nature brings a glitch

The morning of day two brought about a windstorm carrying 54 mph sustained winds and knocked out the power in several villages around the lake for 36 hours.  Because we couldn’t use the electricity to cut the wood needed to make our second panel, we couldn’t assemble our cans and paint them.

We didn’t expect this glitch from Mother Nature but decided to make the most of our down time. Since we are in coffee country after all, why not take a trip up to the coffee Co-op and investigate the drying process already in place? These local Maya workers would have knowledge regarding the agriculture here, and that information would help us in creating a better finished product.

A commercial operation

We were able to see the system that is already in place and were elated that it was so efficient.   The locals were very eager to share their knowledge with us about the coffee bean drying process and took the time to explain in detail the procedure from beginning to end.  The manager of this commercial coffee operation has been schooled in agriculture and in speaking with him, that education was very evident.

The manager and his staff of 10 take the wet coffee bean inside a cherry-like shell to a dried product ready to be roasted. The beans are placed on a concrete patio and the workers rake the coffee every 30 minutes by hand throughout the day to rotate them. With dry weather, this drying process can be completed in 6 days.

How the solar panels make a difference

The solar panels we were installing were for the benefit of the smaller Maya farmers. With these panels they are able to dry the coffee beans themselves before they send them to be processed at the above mentioned facility. Having the solar panels to dry their beans saves the smaller farmer money. He does not have to purchase fuel for a diesel powered drying machine nor do they have to pay the large Co-op to do the drying for them.

Solar Coffee Drier 3

Fan directs heat from solar panel to chamber

Rufino and other small farmers were excited to have this new idea. With a little more working time and a bit more instruction on the project, this would be an easily transferable skill to other workers.

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About Retire Early Lifestyle

Billy and Akaisha Kaderli retired two decades ago at the age of 38 and began traveling the world. As recognized retirement experts and internationally published authors on topics of finance and world travel, they have been interviewed about retirement issues by The Wall Street Journal, Kiplinger's Personal Finance Magazine, The Motley Fool Rule Your Retirement newsletter, nationally syndicated radio talk shows and countless newspapers and TV shows nationally and worldwide. They wrote the popular books The Adventurer's Guide to Early Retirement and Your Retirement Dream IS Possible.
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