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New Solar Refrigerator Prototype from Chile

by Paula Alvarado, Buenos Aires

Photos: University of Santa Maria.

Even if each time the words ‘solar refrigerator’ come in the news it sounds like a groundbreaking story,
truth is the idea of using heat to create cold is pretty old. A French inventor came up with a concept to do
this as far back as 1858, there are records that show a machine prototype from 1935, and the concept of
evaporative cooling has been widely explored, as Lloyd notes in a previous article.

However, it’s always interesting to see new prototypes. This one comes from South America and is based
on adsorption, using methane as gas and active carbon as the absorbent solid material. Get the details and
larger pics in the extended.

Details of the Solar Refrigerator Prototype from Chile

The fridge was developed by mechanic engineering students Frederik Knop, Nicolás Ripoll, and Olivier
Bernade, the last one a French exchange student.

The prototype is based on adsorption, which Wikipedia explains in the following way:

Absorptive refrigeration uses a source of heat to provide the energy needed to drive the cooling process.
[...] The classic gas absorption refrigerator sends liquid ammonia into a hydrogen gas. The liquid ammonia
evaporates in the presence of hydrogen gas, providing the cooling. The now-gaseous ammonia is sent into
a container holding water, which absorbs the ammonia. The water-ammonia solution is then directed past
a heater, which boils ammonia gas out of the water-ammonia solution. The ammonia gas is then
condensed into a liquid. The liquid ammonia is then sent back through the hydrogen gas, completing the
cycle.

The principle of adsorption cooling was invented in 1858 by a French scientist called Ferdinand Carré.
Some prototypes that don't work with heat coming from the sun but induced have been invented and sold
commercially: a crazy model called The Icyball, other industrial ones from Lehman's, and even some
recreational vehicles have refrigerators based in this principle. Venture capitalist Adam Grosser even
presented a project to build a heat-based small refrigerator for poor regions at TED 2007.

So what's the difference in the Chilean model? First of all, the heat, which comes from the sun. Second:
the choice of substances for the process.

Most of these models (except the one from Grosser) use ammonia as gas, which can create too much
pressure if heated up and can be dangerous if leaked. The Chilean prototype uses methane as gas and
active carbon as absorbent. While production of active carbon is a very energy intensive process, methane
is highly biodegradable if spilled and less inflammable (although it can be toxic if ingested or in contact
with eyes).

So the way it works (in a simplified way) is: after attaching the methane to the active carbon, this
substance absorbs the sun’s heat and creates methane vapor that then condensates into licuated methane,
expelling heat in the process. Then the carbon absorbs the methane and the cycle begins again. In short,
the heat that comes from one side activates a process which removes heat from the other side, cooling it.

We're not calling this new or one of a kind, but I couldn't find any prototypes with these characteristics. I
did found records about an investigation to produce a fridge like this, but not the implementation of it. Of
course if any of you readers know another model feel free to share in the comments.

The fridge is just a prototype so far, but the students are hoping to find development support as they think
it could be benefitial for rural areas with strong radiation.

For more information, contact the University of Santa Maria in Chile.


We keep looking for the perfect solar powered appliances, and keep
finding them in Modern Mechanix. The Crosley Icyball was close; In
1935 California engineer Otto Mohr proposed combining an ammonia
absorption cycle refrigeration unit (like the Icyball) with a spherical lens.

"Larger solar power units requiring up to four hours exposure can be


used for heating or cooling entire homes, according to the inventor. A
spherical lens catches the sun’s rays at all hours of the day. This lens
gathers the rays, and changes the light into heat which is transferred to
the refrigerating liquid, usually ammonia. The cooling operation is
similar to that of ordinary gas refrigerators."