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 innovative solutions and bring affordable refrigeration to improve the lives of those far removed from the grid.”
Cathy Leslie, EWB-USA Chief Executive Officer

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 Chill Challenge, which has been funded by a generous grant from the Open Philanthropy Project. EWB-USA is also proud to have ASHRAE as a Chill Challenge partner, contributing to our expert panel of technical reviewers and providing outreach for the Challenge. 

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 build and test prototypes. The competition will be open to all interested parties, and open to all refrigeration technologies.

Key Objectives:

  • Development of a 150-250 liter refrigerator that can chill 20 liters of water/day from 35ºC to 3ºC, and cost less than $12/month to own and operate, or
  • Development of an icemaker that can produce 100-1000 kg. 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. Detailed design parameters can be found here. This initiative is intended to be the first phase of bringing affordable, off-grid refrigeration solutions to developing countries. If viable prototypes are demonstrated, EWB-USA hopes to secure additional funding to support further development and marketing activities. We encourage anyone interested to sign up for updates and more information.

The Application Process

Teams interested in competing for grants will be invited to submit proposals outlining their approach to the problem. Proposals will be accepted beginning September 30, 2019 and will be due by 5:00 PM, MST, December 16, 2019. Forms for registering teams and submitting proposals will be available on this site by September 30. The projected schedule for this challenge is here: Chill Challenge Schedule. Any changes to the rules and guidelines will be posted on the Frequently Asked Questions page of the challenge website, including any changes to the dates. Applicants should read the current FAQ before submitting any questions or concerns.

Initial proposals will be screened by an expert panel and approximately 20 of the best proposals will be short-listed for further consideration. Short-listed teams, to be notified in January 2020, may be asked for additional information to clarify their initial proposals. In addition, they will be asked for specific details on their research process, timeline and budget. As many as 10 teams will be selected for grants of $25,000-50,000 to pursue development of their prototypes. 

The Review Process

Initial Screening Criteria: For the initial screening of applicants, EWB-USA’s review panel will rate proposals for short-listing based on the following general criteria:

  • Is the concept theoretically sound?  
  • If the prototype works, would it offer an affordable option for off-grid communities?
  • Is the technology otherwise appropriate for remote off-grid communities?
  • What qualifications does the applicant have to perform the R&D?

Supplemental Evaluation Criteria: Applicants who are short-listed will be asked for specific details of their research proposal, and will be further evaluated on the following criteria:

  • Has the applicant laid out a clear research plan?
  • Are the proposed budget and timeline reasonable?
  • If successful, could the applicant participate in further development?

Final Selection: In its final selection of grantees, EWB-USA’s goal will be to support the best portfolio of research projects, across a range of refrigeration technologies, given the available funds.  Therefore, in addition to the individual merit of proposals, other factors may be taken into consideration. These might include the size of grants requested, the availability of co-funding or in-kind support, and the need to explore a diversity of technologies.   

Information for Grantees

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. Payments will be subject to any applicable laws and regulations, including requirements for tax reporting.

This initiative is neither a prize competition, nor a simple research grant program. Rather, it is intended to be the first phase of a longer term process to develop commercially viable refrigeration technology for the off-grid market. If teams demonstrate viable proof-of-concept prototypes in this phase, we hope to secure additional funding to support them in further development and marketing of those technologies, with the ultimate prize being access to a potential multi-billion dollar market. EWB-USA, however, has no commitments for such funding at this time, and can provide no assurances of funding beyond this phase. Similarly, participants in this challenge will be under no obligation to participate in any subsequent phases that may be developed.

Grantees will own any intellectual property that they develop under work funded under this initiative. However, if commercially viable refrigeration technology is identified, grantees are expected to develop it, or license its development, so as to make the technology widely available at an affordable price in developing countries. To ensure broad access, grantees will provide EWB-USA with a free, non-exclusive license to the technology, to be used if the grantee fails to carry out this commitment. 

Making the results of the research publicly available is an important secondary objective of the initiative. Grantees will be encouraged to publish the results of their research. Also, EWB-USA reserves the right to summarize and publish the results of research funded under this initiative, after providing teams sufficient time to file for patents or otherwise secure intellectual property rights.