Claim: Solar-powered refrigerators will solve the problem of food waste in Africa

Essays by Eric Worrall

If only people like Post Doc International Environmental and Resource Policy Abay Yimere talked to engineering before discussing tech solutions.

Installing solar-powered refrigerators in developing countries is an effective way to reduce hunger and slow climate change

Published: January 20, 2023 12:36 am AEDT

Abay Yimere
Postdoctoral Scholar in International Environmental and Resource Policy, Tufts University

Food loss and waste are major problems worldwide. When food is thrown aside or left to spoil, it makes the economy less efficient and leaves people hungry.

It also harms Earth’s climate by producing methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Food loss and waste accounts for 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions. If food waste were a country, it would be third largest emitter in the worldbefore India and only after China and the United States


extend food cold chain to the least developed countries in the world can have huge effects. But it also raises concerns if it is not done in a way that avoids contributing to climate change.

Existing refrigeration systems emit hydrochlorofluorocarbons, or HCFCs, and hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, which are substances powerful greenhouse gas. Generating electricity with fossil fuels to power these systems also exacerbates climate change. For these reasons, the export of traditional cold chains to developing countries is not environmentally and socially sustainable.

Instead, developing countries need cold chains powered by renewable energy and use alternative refrigerant with lower climate impact. As a scholar focused on Sustainable development, green growth and climate changeI believe that the expansion of cold supply chains in developing countries – especially sub-Saharan Africa – will not only bring environmental benefits, but also provide important social benefits, such as empowering women.

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A friend uses solar energy to run his refrigerator – 10KW solar panels + backup battery, to run two home fridge freezers and one freezer. Total cost is about $10,000 for solar panels and batteries – for a family of four. Even so, he still has to switch to grid electricity a few times a year, when prolonged cloudy weather makes his battery uncharged.

The cost of the battery alone is a showstopper. Without a battery, my friend’s solar refrigerator is almost useless. With batteries, sometimes they just let him down. But how many poor Africans can afford a $10,000 home refrigerator? Or even a $3000 home refrigerator?

There is a better solution – a absorption refrigerator.

Simple, inexpensive absorption refrigerators, 1920s technology, which can be driven by any heat source – including but not limited to solar. They used to be very popular – my grandfather had a kerosene-cooled portable chest-size absorption refrigerator that he kept in the back of his pickup truck, for camping trips.

The following video from 1939 explain how absorption refrigerators work.

Absorption refrigerators do not require electricity and have no moving parts, although they can use electricity to provide the heat needed to function. A flame, usually propane or kerosene, a series of cyclic chemical reactions helps keep the cold inside the refrigerator.

Such refrigerators can easily be adapted to use a wood-fired firebox, they only need one source of heat – it doesn’t matter how the heat is generated. They use no CFCs, the cooling cycle uses ammonia, water and hydrogen – so they can be recharged with minimal effort in the field using inexpensive chemicals.

Such refrigerators can be assembled by a qualified welder from blueprints. Africa is full of skilled welders and metal workers, nothing is thrown away in Africa until it is truly irreparable. Like I said, yes no moving partsno expensive, hard-to-find components – just an arrangement of air ducts and radiators.

All the skilled craftsmen in Africa will need is the know-how to assemble the refrigerator, from parts they may already have in their own workshop.

By all means run a solar absorption refrigerator, when there is sunlight – an inexpensive solar concentrator will suffice, they won’t need expensive solar panels. One molten salt thermal reservoirlike the salt in an off-peak electric wall heater, can be used to keep a refrigerator running at night, or the owner can light a firebox and power a refrigerator from coal or firewood after sunset.

Of course, some absorption refrigerators can be adapted by owners to operate on fossil fuels, even if they don’t start that way – so perhaps that rules them out as a “solution”. climate solutions” are perfect, even if they would be an extremely cheap and accessible solution to the problem of cold food storage in Africa.


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