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Designed for the developing world, this low-cost fridge stays cool the same way your body does

How do you provide affordable refrigeration options to people in the developing world, where electrification is still considered a luxury in many cases? It’s a bigger problem than you may think. In Africa, for instance, 45 percent of grown produce spoils before it reaches the consumer. As you might imagine, this has a major knock-on impact in terms of people’s health and living standards.

Fortunately, a new startup called Evaptainers thinks it could have a possible solution — and it’s one that’s based on the millennia-old concept of evaporative cooling, albeit with a distinctly 21st-century twist.

What Evaptainers has created is an affordable refrigeration tool that requires nothing more than naturally-occurring sun and water to create dependable, electricity-free, cold-chain solutions.

“Essentially it’s a container that sweats,” CEO Spencer Taylor told Digital Trends. “The largest organ in the human body is our skin. It’s a semi-permeable membrane, an incredible piece of material which allows us to cool ourselves through our pores. If we overheat, water is produced to compensate. As the water evaporates, it takes the heat with it, and that’s how we cool down. What we’ve created is a container where you can cover the surface with a low level of moisture that can be continually delivered over a long period of time. The idea is that the vessel essentially sweats, and through that natural phenomenon it can achieve a significant difference between the exterior and interior temperature.”

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While based on ideas which have been around for about 4,000 years, the 60-liter food storage chamber Evaptainers is hoping to bring to market is made of modern materials, including a soft rubberized tub and an outer layer constructed from a semi-permeable membrane fabric. Water between these two layers is what keeps the container cool. “Since the project started, I couldn’t tell you how many prototypes we’ve been through — but we’ve experimented with all sorts of surfaces, materials and everything else to try and achieve the highest performance standards,” Taylor continued.

It certainly seems to be paying off. The project was recently nominated for a Siemens Stiftung “Empowering People” award, while a plan is underway to carry out a 500-unit field trial in Morocco later this year. After that, Taylor said that he hopes to bring it to other developing markets, including Nigeria and India. Its proposed price? Around $25.

“While that would be the equivalent of a major appliance purchase, if you were going to equate it to a Western consumer, it’s completely in reach for people,” he said. “From all the consumer testing we’ve done so far, looking at the impact it has on consumption in terms of how long food lasts, we think the payoff period for a customer in somewhere like Morocco would be under three months.”

Closer to home, Taylor said the tool could also find a use in the camping market. “Our goal is to launch the product in the first or second quarter of 2017,” he said.