Addressing food insecurity in arid regions with an open-source evaporative cooling chamber design

With support from the Abdul Latif Jameel Water and Food Systems Lab (J-WAFS), a team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed an open-source design for a solar-powered cooling chamber that offers accessible cold storage for smallholder farmers in arid climates.

Using one-quarter of the energy typically used by refrigerated cold rooms, and at half the cost to build, this new design for a forced-air evaporative cooling chamber offers a more efficient solution that is solar-powered and can be built using a shipping container. The chamber is specifically designed for preserving fresh fruit and vegetables in hot and dry climates, helping smallholder farmers arid regions and those where electricity supply is limited and/or expensive.

The development of the forced-air evaporative cooling chamber was led by Eric Verploegen and researchers from MIT D-Lab as well as MIT's 'Building technology' programme. Pilot chambers were first constructed in partnership with Solar Freeze, a company founded by D-Lab Scale-ups Fellow, Dysmus Kisilu, in Kibwezi, Kenya.

Eric has made evaporative cooling the focus of his work since 2016, initially focusing on small-scale evaporative cooling 'Zeer' pots for household use. Acting as a natural refrigerator, Zeer pots help preserve produce longer, which is an important element in tackling food waste and food insecurity. Unlike Zeer pots, however, which rely on passive airflow, the newly released MIT D-Lab design has an active airflow system as well as a significantly larger capacity.

The open-source design documentation is available via the project's website and consists of six chapters, with written guides and videos. The design has the potential to bring immense benefits to smallholder communities in arid regions, where significant food waste and spoilage occurs post-harvest due to poor storage infrastructure and solutions.

MIT News