SolarChill - saving lives using solar power

Feature story - 2 September, 2005
It's obvious we need solutions to climate change as well as real assistance to developing nations. SolarChill is a new ozone-layer friendly refrigeration technology running entirely on solar power, enabling the safe delivery of vaccines and food to regions of the world without electricity.

SolarChill prototypes - the vaccine cooler and the refrigerator.

SolarChill was born through separate discussions between Greenpeace,the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and the World HealthOrganization. The big challenge: providing affordable andenvironmentally safe refrigeration for the maintenance of vaccines andmedicines, and the preservation of food, in parts of the world thathave no electricity or have unreliable supplies of electricity. At themoment refrigerators in developing countries usually use kerosene,propane and to far lesser extent, solar power. Vital medicine ismost often stored in unreliable kerosene refrigerators.

Kerosene and vaccines

Kerosene refrigerators consume about 1 litre of kerosene daily. Notonly do they emit unpleasant fumes, theyoccasionally catch fire, they need to be regularly fuelled up, andthey are often not reliable for maintaining the required vaccinetemperature.

Of course they are also environmentally harmful as the burning ofkerosene contributes to global warming. There are approximately 100,000kerosene refrigerators in use today around the world for coolingvaccines, which means they produce approximately between 73 and 91million kilograms of CO2 each year!

What about solar power?

Solar Vaccine Coolers are already in use in parts of the world thatlack electricity, and they have proven to be more reliable than theirkerosene counterparts.

However, there are only approximately 6,000 solar vaccine coolersaround the world today. Two big problems: they rely on batteries, whichare expensive and toxic to make and dispose of, and they cost more than kerosene coolers.

The cost of a solar cooler today is in the US$3500 to US$4500 range. Incomparison, the cost of the SolarChill package, cooler and solar panelscombined, is projected to come in around US$1500.

The birth of SolarChill

Coincidentally, at about the same time as we were talking with UNEP andWHO, the Danish Technological Institute (DTI) began the development ofa new solar refrigerator that bypassed the use of batteries. We decidedto join forces.

We provided the funds for the development of the first SolarChillprototypes. These were exhibited at the World Summit on SustainableDevelopment in 2002 in Johannesburg, South Africa.

What's so special about these refrigerators?

SolarChill refrigerators don't need batteries or a connection to theelectrical grid - they store power in three 60W voltaic panels. They dohowever have an AC/DC converter, which provides flexibility to usewind, hydropower, bio-gas or grid energy (and even a carbattery!) when there is not enough sun. The coolers are also energy efficient because theyhave excellent insulation. They don't contribute to globalwarming thanks to the special hydrocarbon system made by our friends atDTI and their partners.

Even maintaining a constant temperature, important where medicine isconcerned, doesn't need an electronic controller - it is managedthrough natural convection methods.  

A single SolarChill unit can serve a population of 50,000 people forpreserving vaccines, and will be 50 - 60 percent cheaper than currentsolar refrigerator models.

Can I buy one for my new kitchen?

Not yet ... a second generation of prototypes of the SolarChill VaccineCooler went into field testing at the beginning of 2004 in Senegal,Indonesia and Cuba. 10 prototypes of the chest freezer vaccine coolerare being tested under a variety of climatic conditions, including atthe DTI laboratory in Denmark.

Plans call for similar field testing of the upright freezer SolarChill Food Refrigerator in 2005.

After that, the technology will be made freely available tomanufacturers around the world, so we hope that after that SolarChillwill be available in both developing countries and your localdepartment store.

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