In August, we announced the organisations shortlisted for the second stage of the Off-Grid Cold Chain Challenge (OGCCC), which is funded by UK Aid delivered by the Department for International Development (DFID). Today, we look at the innovative appliances they developed that meet the cold storage requirements for fresh fruits, vegetables and dairy products in an energy-efficient, sustainable and cost-effective way.
Here are the 10 finalist solutions:
The cold storage facility that ColdHubs Ltd. developed will enable Nigerian small farmers, retailers and wholesalers to store 3 tons of food, saving 1,095 tons of food from spoilage a year. The walk-in cold room is a 100% green cooling solution. Completely powered by rooftop solar panels and connected to a set of deep-cycle, long-lasting batteries, off-grid and on-grid inverters, the power generated is sufficient to keep the temperature at 5-15° Celsius in all weather conditions.
‘ColdHubs helps to protect the environment, resources and the climate and supports the use of renewable technologies within cooling’, says Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu, innovator and CEO of ColdHubs. ‘It thereby contributes towards a sustainable reduction of fossil fuel consumption.’
The shortlisted entry of social benefits company DGridEnergy is the Solar Cool Cube, which has already been deployed in Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The refrigerated storage unit comes with an off-grid solar electric system and a battery bank so it can run 24 hours a day. It has multiple USB ports to charge mobile phones and laptops, and provides external LED lighting for communities without reliable electricity.
‘Our vision is to build cold chain supply networks in countries needing cold storage for multiple sectors’, says Eugene Faison, CEO of DGridEnergy. ‘The Solar Cool Cube means farmers can store their crops to protect them from post-harvest loss, immediately availing them of additional income, new markets and the ability to store products until demand generates higher prices. As an additional benefit, we create jobs by training our local partners in how to install, service and maintain the Solar Cool Cube products.’
Ecolife is a women-run organisation that works with female farmers growing vegetables in Uganda. Their shortlisted entry, the Eco Cold Room, is manufactured and assembled in the country’s capital Kampala from recycled materials which are locally available.
The Eco Cold Room has an inside and outside wall made from fire clay bricks, and an air gap filled with recycled PET water bottles for insulation, placed in specific orientations to minimise air movements. The cold room is powered by both hydroelectricity and solar energy.
‘We empower communities through creative capacity building. We train, construct, fabricate and test the Eco Cold Room with local communities using local materials and local knowledge’, says Ecolife CEO Hadijah Nantambi. ‘We found that farmers had zero food loss and better bargaining power with the final customer, which allowed families - especially women - to earn four times the profits compared to give-away prices from middlemen.’
Ecozen Solutions Pvt. Ltd.
Ecozen Solutions' shortlisted entry, Ecofrost, is a cold room that runs on solar energy and uses innovative thermal energy storage technology that can provide backup power for up to 30 hours. These thermal batteries are much more efficient than conventional batteries, with at least twice the life and much lower replacement costs. Ecofrost is to be deployed in Nigeria.
‘Our products are a perfect blend of a sustainable solution while keeping the farmer’s profit a priority’, says Devendra Gupta, CEO of Ecozen. ‘Ecofrost has helped the farmers to cut wastage by up to 20 per cent and increase their income by 50 to 100 per cent or more.’
This early-stage social enterprise based in Nairobi, Kenya, is paving the way forward for sustainable refrigeration in East African produce markets.
Assembled locally in Nairobi, Kenya, their flagship unit is a solar-powered, walk-in cold room that can reach freezing temperature and holds over 2,100 kg of fruits and vegetables. With 100 mm thick panels comprised of a polyurethane interior and aluminium exterior, FreshBox can increase the longevity of a fruit or vegetable’s selling period by up to 950% depending on the fruit or vegetable.
‘Our unique pay-as-you-go subscription model allows us to reach customers that previously have not had access to refrigeration services and allows us to help prevent the spoilage of fruits and vegetables’, says CEO Daniel Anastos. ‘Our cold storage system can provide more consistent revenues to the retailers in produce markets, allowing us to stabilize the often volatile produce markets in Kenya.’
The automated, controlled and remotely monitored refrigerated storage and food processing unit developed by InspiraFarms can be ready to deploy anywhere with minimal preparation. The 16-24 pallet capacity unit requires only single phase power, can run entirely on solar and has two levels of in-built back up, both thermal and electrical. All components are manufactured in Italy and assembled on-site with full international food safety standard compliance.
‘The InspiraFarms facilities will be installed in rural locations across Rwanda, servicing the smallholder farmers who are beyond the reach of the existing grid, providing them access to high value export markets’, says Luke Davey, East Africa Operations Manager for Enterprise Projects Ventures Ltd (InspiraFarms). ‘Cooling near the point of harvest is key to improving quality and reducing food losses so as to increase production and exports from fresh-produce out-grower networks. These groups have been typically underserved and represent a large portion of the 45% of the population that is below the poverty line.’
Inviro Choice Limited (ICL)
Inviro Choice Limited's shortlisted entry, Cold Change, is a walk-in cold store product that can be used with a range of perishable produce including fruit, vegetables, dairy products, meat and fish. Solar power is integrated with on-board lithium ion battery energy storage, allowing the unit to be fully operational for two consecutive days without recharging.
‘In East African countries, women provide much or most of the labour for farming and trading, producing an estimated 70% of food, but do not necessarily reap the economic, social or welfare benefits of production’, says Sean Roche, Managing Director of Inviro Choice Limited. ‘Sustainable agriculture that is equitable and effective cannot be delivered without recognising the importance of women to the sector. Smallholder access to Cold Change, facilitated through farmer cooperatives and associations, offers an opportunity to help address this gender issue.’
Manufactured in the US from Chinese parts, the 14 m3 solar-powered cool room has integrated thermal storage and minimal electrical energy storage.
The unit can run on standalone solar or with an intermittent or mini-grid, and can hold the interior chamber within an acceptable temperature range for two days without using power. If running only on a mini-grid, the unit will maintain cold internal temperature based on only three-six hours per day of available power.
‘Our goal is to reduce the cost and improve the reliability of cooling where generators or ice is currently used, and enabling cooling where there is currently no cooling option’, says David Bergeron, CEO of SunDanzer.
The Off-Grid Factory
The Off-Grid Factory has developed The Village Fridge, a standalone solar-powered cooling machine with a cool motor that needs no inverter, batteries or generator.
The pre-fabricated, insulated storage room also includes a social space, that can be used as a shop or for sorting agricultural produce. The cooling wall between the cold storage room and the social room can be shifted so the cooling capacity can be adjusted to future growth.
‘We developed The Village Fridge for local communities in rural areas. It is easily transportable, is plug and play, has very low maintenance costs over time, and can easily be adjusted to the future demands of the client’, says Arnoud van Putten, Managing Director of The Off-Grid Factory. ‘If the customer or village wants to adjust to secured cooling (inverter/batteries), the system can be easily extended.’
Tiger Power's entry combines a refrigerated container with a foldable PV-array and a lead crystal battery bank to store surplus electricity produced during the day. Designed to be easily transported and mobile to reduce logistical and transportation barriers when operating in off-grid and rural areas, the cold storage solution can be up and running in less than an hour. Tiger Power envisages its unit can be used in refugee or internal displacement camps in order to increase the quality of food supply to those in need.
‘Solar energy and cold storage are a perfect match. Direct solar cools the refrigerated container during the day when temperatures are highest’, says Jonathan Lambregs, Business Development Manager of Tiger Power. ‘Through the integration of a battery bank, we can guarantee the required temperature for cooling at night as well. We aim at off-grid applications where our solar solution replaces a diesel generator. By doing so we cut back fuel costs, maintenance costs and greenhouse gas emissions.’
Over the next four months, these organisations will deploy their products in five countries across Africa, and early next year we will start testing them in the field. We expect a lot of learning will emerge from field-testing, so watch this space!
Cover photo: A farmer at work in Kenya's Mount Kenya region. Photo by Neil Palmer (CIAT) made available through a Creative Commons Attribution -ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.