The easy-to-erect durable structure has been designed to solve immediate post-harvest storage headaches and also achieve big cost savings, according to Ian Anderson, managing director of Preva.
The “Airstore,” which can hold up to 900 tonnes of potatoes, has already proved a success at one of the company’s site at Little Snoring, near Fakenham.
“The savings are absolutely astonishing,” said Mr Anderson, who has a background in aviation.
He said one of the biggest headaches for growers was the cost of taking potatoes from field to store. This makes it possible to take the store to the potato field, which would save at least £8 per tonne in transports costs.
Mr Anderson has seen inflatable “hangars” to protect aircraft, which have been taken out to Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We do a lot of work with Lamb Weston, both growing and storage. They challenged us a couple of years ago to try and work out a cheaper way of storing potatoes in the short term that could take out some of the transport costs.”
“It has always been uneconomic to put up a permanent building to hold potatoes until Christmas, so we came up with the idea of what we’re calling the ‘Airstore’ to solve the problem,” said Mr Anderson, who is based at Foulsham, near Dereham.
By working with Lindstrand Technologies, based at Oswestry, Shropshire, a new heavy-duty structure has been designed. It spans 22m and can store potatoes to a depth of four metres in the centre and three metres at the sides.
“You lay out all the 10m sections and join them together. Then you turn the fans on and you think it is such a massive structure that it will take hours to go up but it only takes 45 minutes to 50 minutes for the building to take shape. Within an hour-and-a-half, it is up and because of the way they’re designed, they’re self erecting.”
Mr Anderson, who has obtained the European rights for the building to store produce, including grain and produce including potatoes, said the Airstore has probably halved the cost of short-term storage.
He said Lindstrand was developing another concept, which was at an early stage, of what it terms “pneumatic” buildings, using bale walls as sides of the structure.
They used the Airstore, which should last for about 20 years, to store bulk potatoes short-term last year with complete success.
“If you’re looking to build a traditional 900 tonne bulk store – and we’ve recently built them, it costs about £230 per tonne space. With the Airstore, the cost is about £90,000 – a £100 per tonne capital cost.
“It is a lot cheaper, more flexible and cuts costs. And as the nature of the potato industry is changing, it gives growers more flexibility,” said Mr Anderson.
A team of between four and six staff is needed to lay out the modules and for inflation, and a couple of people can complete the task in hours. There are no trusses, wires or frames to support any part of the building. It is equally simple to remove the building and once deflated it can be palletised for storage or relocation – each module fits on a single large pallet.
The ventilation system has been designed either overhead for box storage or surface laterals for bulk stores.