Essential Tech Center
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ColdBox

A mobile, off-grid, autonomous refrigerator

“From the cold chains that carry vaccines to rural health clinics, to the jobs a connected agricultural sector supports, sustainable cooling solutions are vital.” – Chilling Prospects 2021 Report

Among the urban and rural poor in low- and middle-in-come countries (LMICs), 1.09 billion people were at high risk due to lack of access to cooling in 2021, an increase of 50 million over 2020.1 Addressing this risk is vital to support the UN Sustainable Development Goals 2030.

The challenge

In LMICs, loss of food and vaccines has serious impact: 

  • Grid coverage only 30%
  • 50% of food wasted because of lack of refrigeration
  • 2 Million deaths annually due to vaccination cold-chain failure

A pilot project in Mozambique demonstrated that with access to cooling – in that case we installed solar-powered refrigerators for small entrepreneurs – could change peoples’ lives. Refrigeration enabled the small businesses to preserve food longer, substantially increasing profits, and easily offsetting the cost of the fridges they rented.

But there are several other factors related to the impact of cooling the we wish to address with the ColdBox project:

  • Food security: cooling enables improved food storage for 50% less food waste
  • Healthcare access: Stable last-mile vaccine cold-chain, saving 25% of vaccine waste in LMICs
  • Environmental sustainability: Ecological impact considered through the full life-cycle of the fridge, its components and use
  • Equipment upkeep and cost of ownership: Addressing lack of logistics and parts for maintenance
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Solar-powered refrigeration in our pilot project
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Medicines and vaccines must be stored at the right temperature to enable access – particularly difficult during transport and in remote areas. Both too hot and too cool can render vaccines useless. We performed detailed surveys to understand the needs. Results are outlined in a 2020 article titled “The status of refrigeration techniques for vaccine storage and transportation in low-income settings”.2

Our adapted solution

EssentialTech is developing an efficient, off-grid mobile refrigerator to enable systemic change towards a healthier, economically viable cold chain to support healthcare access needs and small businesses in low resource settings.

  • Evaporation-absorption refrigerator with advanced materials
  • Well-insulated box and opening protocols to minimize loss of cooling
  • Provide refrigeration between 2 and 8°C for several weeks at ambient temperature 
  • Environmentally-friendly
  • Minimal maintenance, cost-effective
  • Scalable in production
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Several factors contribute to a new interest in evaporation cooling methods, notably growing awareness of the environmental impact of refrigeration techniques.
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Effective vaccine transport carriers enable vaccination in rural and low-resource setting: An ultimate goal of the ColdBox project.

Project status

The project needs assessment has been fully funded and performed. At this time, the project seeks funding support for prototype development and refinement of refrigeration technology. We anticipate implementation by 2023.  Please contact us regarding potential philanthropic and investment opportunities.

Project manager

Dr. Meher Prakash

Participating lab: Laboratory for Functional Inorganic Materials (LFIM)

Project idea originated from Mr. Coll McDougall Hunter from Hunter Global tracking

Partners

This project is a collaboration between EssentialTech and SolidarMed.

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  1. Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL), “Chilling Prospects: Tracking Sustainable Cooling for All.” 2021
  2. M. Cattin, S. Jonnalagedda, S. Makoliso, K. Schonenberger. “The status of refrigeration techniques for vaccine storage and transportation in low-income settings.” (2020), DOI:10.31224/osf.io/gx8fn

Images: Adobe, EssnetialTech, ICRC, Wikipedia 

EssentialTech Centre

essentialtech [at] epfl.ch
+41 21 693 60 61
Mailing address:
EPFL-ENT-R-EssentialTech
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1015 Lausanne (Switzerland)
Physical address:
EPFL Lausanne Campus
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