Making a ‘’breakfast routine’’ possible for everyone
Let’s start with breakfast: I walk into the kitchen, flip on the lights, turn on the stove to boil water and open the refrigerator. In developing areas these simple actions are not so simple. Globally, 1.2 bn people have no access to any electricity and even more lack reliable electricity. Without electricity there are no lights, no electric stoves, and no refrigerators. Innovations in solar lights and clean cookstoves have begun to address the first two of these problems. However, until now, access to refrigeration to reduce food spoilage has been unattainable for low-income populations who live without reliable electricity. This contributes to 45% of all food harvested in Africa spoiling before it even reaches the consumer. These losses impact farmers and consumers, costing precious income and affecting overall nutrition. Globally, post-harvest food spoilage greatly contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, in fact, if it were a nation, post-harvest spoilage would be the third-largest emitter after the United States and China.
Evaptainers co-founder Quang Truong had seen all these effects of post-harvest spoilage in his work in global agricultural development; from Vietnam to Haiti to Liberia he saw people struggling to keep food fresh. While a student at the Fletcher School at Tufts University Quang enrolled in a course at MIT where he was tasked with developing a product or service that could change the lives of a billion people. Quang immediately thought of a problem that fit the scale of the challenge and set about developing the solution. He had heard of a Nigerian solution called a Zeer pot that utilized evaporative cooling to keep food fresh. Knowing that Zeer pots were large terracotta containers that required constant watering Quang was sure that using modern design and advanced materials he could develop a product that utilized evaporation that could be widely distributed in emerging markets.
Out of this class project came the Evaptainer: a lightweight, portable, low-cost and efficient evaporative cooler for use by farmers, consumers, and backcountry enthusiasts. Running only on water (either potable or non-potable,) the Evaptainer keeps its contents at 30F/10C below the surrounding air temperatures. Field tests have shown that this can double the shelf life of fruits and vegetables while only consuming a litre of water per day.
From the beginning the design team has been driven by human-centered design. Early pilots with farmers in Morocco found that the farmers wanted to use their first Evaptainers in their homes rather than on their farms. While excited about the commercial potential of the innovation, their greatest need was in keeping their families’ fresh food from spoiling. As a result the design team pivoted to address the household market first. One of the earliest field trial participants Hamid has been able to reduce his trips to the local market from three times to once a week, allowing him and his household to realize savings of 5-10% of their monthly income.
Hamid and his small family with new EV-4
Over the course of three years Evaptainers has grown from one person to five, from one continent to two, and from a nascent idea to a concrete solution. None of this growth would have been possible without the support of strategic partners and funders. It has taken organizations with vision to clearly see the scope of the problem and the potential impact of the solution while understanding the challenges inherent in boot-strapping a hardware company. The empowering people. Network and Siemens Stiftung team have been just such supporters. Beyond funding and support for a 400-unit field trial in Morocco in 2017 the team has been an essential source of advice and networking. Members of the Evaptainers and Siemens Stiftung team were able to connect at a MIT Scaling Development conference and spent time discussing current challenges and wins. Having access to the Network has been a priceless asset for a small company and future events promise to further expand the potential for a simple yet powerful solution.
Ultimately, this solution makes possible a simple breakfast routine for anyone in an area with little to no electricity: walk into the kitchen, flip on the solar lantern, light the clean cookstove, and open an Evaptainer.
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