Chill Challenge: Affordable, Off-Grid Refrigeration

“Our mission is to lift people out of poverty and reliable, affordable and sustainable refrigeration is a huge step in the right direction. Successful solutions to our Refrigeration Challenge will be a game changer for millions of people. We are extremely proud to launch our Challenge, catalyze new thinking and inspire out of the box thinking.”
Cathy Leslie, EWB USA Executive Director

The Problem

Refrigeration is a key to economic and social development; it is critical for health and nutrition, and can reduce food waste, provide economic opportunities for farmers and businesses, and reduce the burden on women. However, there may be as many 2 billion people worldwide without access to reliable refrigeration. While economic growth may bring refrigeration to a large portion of this population, refrigeration will be a particularly difficult challenge for the hundreds of millions of people who will acquire electricity via “mini-grids” or “solar home systems.” These distributed  power systems increasingly have been used to provide power for lighting, cell-phone charging and TV for households far from the electricity grid. However, refrigeration requires a quantum leap in power and investment, and with current technology may remain out of the reach of most off-grid households for the foreseeable future.

The Challenge

To address this refrigeration “gap,” Engineers Without Borders – USA is launching the Affordable Off-Grid Refrigeration Challenge, which has been funded by a generous grant from the Open Philanthropy Project. 

The objective of the challenge is the development of refrigerators and icemakers that are significantly more affordable for off-grid communities than currently available units. EWB-USA intends to award grants of $25,000-$50,000 to as many as 10 teams to develop proof of concept prototypes. The competition will be open to all interested parties, and open to all refrigeration technologies. Specific design targets call for:

  1. Development of a 150-250 liter refrigerator that can chill 20 liters of water/day from 35C to 3C, and cost less than $12/month to own and operate, or;
  2. Development of an icemaker that can produce 100-1000 kgs of ice/day at a cost of $0.03/kg or less.

Both units must achieve these targets while operating on off-grid energy sources, and be otherwise suitable for use in remote developing communities.

The Process

Interested teams will be invited to submit an initial proposal by September 2019, outlining their approach to the problem. (Link to process timeline here) Initial proposals will be screened by an expert panel and approximately 20 of the best proposals will be shortlisted for further consideration. Those teams whose proposals have been shortlisted will be asked for additional information and as many as 10 teams will be selected for grants of $25,000-$50,000 to pursue development of their prototypes.

Winning grantees will receive 50% of their funds on execution of the grant agreement, 30% on receipt of an interim report of progress, and the final 20% on receipt and acceptance by the review panel of a final report on their research. Publishing the results of the research, including unsuccessful efforts, is an important secondary objective of the initiative.

This initiative is not intended to be simply a research project, but rather the first phase of bringing an affordable, off-grid solution to developing countries. While EWB-USA cannot commit to additional funding at this time, we hope to secure additional funding to support further development and marketing of viable technologies identified.