Cleantech Solving Basic Needs In India

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Continuing a topic covered recently in MIT’s Technology Review–namely the use of alternative energy to solve some basic needs in India’s rural areas–today’s Green Blog covers another innovation:

Milk? Garbage. Spinach? Garbage. Leftover Thai takeout? Garbage. For millions in the Northeast, clearing out the fridge after days without power was just one more unsavory chore that was part of the cleanup process after Hurricane Sandy passed through.

But in the developing world, throwing out food because of inadequate refrigeration isn’t just annoying, it’s a devastating and irreparable economic blow that keeps farmers trapped at the level of subsistence and threatens food security. In India, the government estimates that anywhere from 30 to 40 percent of food spoils long before it finds its way to the table.

Such waste is endemic because so few farmers have access to electricity. Even in Tamil Nadu, one of the most industrialized states in the country and sometimes referred to as India’s California, only 40 percent of the population has electricity. Without power, tomatoes and okra stand no chance in 104-degree weather.

To address the problem, business students and engineers from the University of Cincinnati have teamed with local Ohio companies to create a small solar-powered refrigerated shed for storing food. The SolerCool container runs on just eight solar panels and keeps produce at a comfortably cool temperature, even at night, thanks to a battery that charges during the day.

Mohsen Rezayat, chief solutions architect at Siemens PLM and an adjunct professor in the University of Cincinnati’s engineering school, helped bring all the technology for the shed together. One of its more unusual components is the compressor.

“Compressors, which generate the cold air for refrigeration, are huge energy hogs,” Dr. Rezayat noted. But the team found a company that had created a small portable one that could be run on the power from just a few solar panels.

The unit was designed so that vending machines wouldn’t have to be hauled out for repair, he said. “When something went wrong with the cooling system, a new one could just be popped in like a fresh ink cartridge,” Dr. Rezayat explained. “Turns out, what’s good for vending machines at universities in Ohio is good for cabbages on farms in India.”

Click the image above to read the rest of the story.

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