Evaporative Cooling Can Combat Food Loss
Food insecurity remains one of the most burning development challenges, as Food and Agriculture Organization notes – roughly one-third of the food produced globally gets lost or wasted every year. Whilst in the developed world it is mostly a waste journey from refrigerators to landfills, for millions in the developing regions, it is lost in farms due to poor storage, pest infestations and lack of uninterrupted energy or appropriate transportation. Simple evaporative cooling technologies have come a long way to significantly address these challenges, yet the application of this approach has been stunted with misconceptions and lack of investment. Eric Verploegen is a research engineer who leads MIT D-Lab’s research on evaporative cooling for vegetable preservation, breaks down the myths around evaporative cooling and suggests approaches that benefit underserved communities.
What is the significance of evaporative cooling in developing regions?
In developing regions with hot and dry climates, evaporative cooling technologies have the potential to provide a cost-effective solution for preserving certain products such as vegetables and leafy greens. These technologies are particularly attractive when cooling technologies that rely on electricity are either not available or not affordable.
How did you realize that this is best suited for developing regions?
With the long history of this technology, why is it still not a widely used cooling solution?
While a majority of people in many arid regions such as the West African Sahel already use evaporative cooling methods for storing and keeping drinking water cool, awareness is low about its suitability for preserving specific vegetables, fruits, and leafy greens. Furthermore, there is a lack of locally-relevant information on how to construct evaporative cooling devices and few businesses are distributing affordable and effective products in the regions where they can provide maximum value.
Do you think there are any new approaches that could increase the uptake of evaporative cooling techniques?
Yes, there are over 100 million people living in the rural areas of the Sahel, and combined with other arid regions of Africa and South Asia, there is a large enough market for these technologies.
The approaches used at varying scales can be grouped as follows:
Where have you successfully tested and implemented cooling systems? Is it easy and practical for the local community to replicate it in large numbers?
In partnership with the World Vegetable Center, we conducted an evaluation of evaporative cooling technologies for improved vegetable storage in Mali. The results showed that clay pot coolers and brick evaporative cooling chambers of various designs improved the shelf life of vegetables by providing a stable storage environment with low temperature and high humidity, and the additional advantage of protection from animals and insects. The typical evaporative cooling designs are easy to construct if guidance is provided. But we haven’t yet quantified the kind of scale of use that can be reached through training – that research needs to be undertaken and is part of my five-point call to action. Building an evidence base of what does and does not work is critical to advancing the use of evaporative cooling. We are currently collaborating with organizations in Kenya, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, and Gujarat, India to test the performance of locally-made devices and looking to expand distribution efforts so that their usefulness can be evaluated.
You are exploring collaboration with epNetwork member Evaptainer, what is the potential of entrepreneurial models for disseminating these technologies?
Models ranging from locally made products sold by local entrepreneurs to mass-manufactured products sold globally have the potential for scaling the use of evaporative cooling. We are working with our partners to identify who can benefit from these technologies and what specific products and distribution models are best suited for those potential users. Some people may be best reached through agricultural extension programs with information for constructing cooling devices with materials they already own or can easily acquire, while for others, buying a customized evaporative cooling chamber from a local entrepreneur might be preferable. And in some case, purchasing a lightweight mass-manufactured evaporative cooling device like the Evaptainer might make the most sense.