Proving once again that the best ideas are often the simplest, 21-year-old student/inventor/entrepreneur Emily Cummins has designed a brilliant portable solar-powered refrigerator that works based upon the principle of evaporation. Employing a combination of conduction and convection, the refrigerator requires no electricity and can be made from commonly available materials like cardboard, sand, and recycled metal.
Simply place perishable foods or temperature-sensitive medications in the solar refrigerator’s interior metal chamber and seal it. In-between the inner and outer chamber, organic material like sand, wool or soil is then saturated with water. As the sun warms the organic material, water evaporates, reducing the temperature of the inner chamber to a cool, 6 ºC [43 ºF] for days at a time!
After winning £5,000 from York Merchant Adventurers for her idea, Emily delayed going to college for a year to take her refrigerator to Africa for further development. She made six versions during the initial phase of production and helped make more than 50 during the trip where locals in Namibia nicknamed her “The Fridge Lady“. The refrigerator has since rolled out in Zambia, Namibia and South Africa and Emily believes thousands more may be in use as the design passes from community to community through word-of-mouth.
Emily explained: “I set about looking at how I could make a sustainable version after asking people what luxury they couldn’t live without and one of the answers that kept coming up was ‘fridge’…I wanted to keep it really simple and so I set about researching how we cooled things years ago. The simplest method of cooling something could be seen when you look at how we cool biologically—through sweating or evaporation. That idea led me to the design and the fridge was born.”
Emily has been inventing from an early age – she received her first hammer at the tender age of four from her grandfather who was an engineer, and she soon set to work making toys and rabbit hutches. At 16 Emily won a regional Young Engineer for Britain Award for creating a toothpaste squeezer for people with arthritis, and the next year went on to win a Sustainable Design Award for a water-carrier made from wood and rubber tubing. In 2007 Emily was named the British Female Innovator of the Year, and last year was short-listed for Cosmopolitan’s 2008 Ultimate Women of the Year Competition.
“I do want to use my skills to make a difference,” Emily says. “I’m not interested in making a bigger TV or greater sound system. I want to create change for the better.” Well said. We know we’ll hear much more from Emily in the future.