Gallery: Student Invents Solar-Powered Fridge for Developing Countries


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.

+ Emily Cummins

Via Daily Mail and Ecofriend


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  1. sagemoon June 1, 2012 at 4:52 am

    There is nothing new in this world – only clever marketing. Another student, from South Africa, developed a far superior cooling device than this one, received some acclaim and then strangely all records of this person and his design have disappeared from the internet … maybe because it was such a money-saving, efficient innovation that it threatened to make a big dent in earnings for some or other company. Just saying. Face it – saving the world is not high on the priority lists of the powers-that-be … controlling and manipulating feature more strongly.
    Pity about that – if governments supplied a jiko and one evaporation-cooler for every household in Africa would make a big difference to poverty-stricken communities.

  2. Look April 17, 2011 at 4:28 pm

    No offense, but if you’ve been to Africa, water is more precious than cool food. Just saying.

  3. ryvo January 27, 2011 at 2:35 pm

    some of you people really need to read the article before you comment.. she clearly stated that that she researched how people used to cool things back in the days so she obviously got her idea from there… there is a difference between invention and innovation and what she did was clearly an innovation because the principle of operation is not new but most persons tend to interchange the 2 words..

  4. Solar Fridge Inventor H... October 28, 2010 at 12:03 pm

    […] Barnes Wallis, the inventor of ‘the bouncing bomb’, Cummins developed her product in a garden shed while she was still completing her studies. Designed to use a combination of both […]

  5. jonnyspeed June 17, 2010 at 2:12 pm

    you bunch of haters – if many of these African countries already had this invention then there would be no need for her to make a design that can be replicated easily by locals. She clearly says she researched how it was done in the past and made a design that was useful and easily manufactured in African countries out of skills and materials they have.

    You lot need to differentiate between the actual story and how some journalists have written the story up.

    haters will hate.

  6. monteverde May 28, 2010 at 2:18 pm

    congratulations for this great idea. I live in the gulf of mexico where the temperature is really hot and near my comunnity are a lot of people with out electricity and they are hopping that one day that they can keep a meet or milk for their children fresh for the next day.
    please tell me how can i buy one sample so i can take it to the goverment to start a project with all this people.

  7. Jeremy February 10, 2009 at 4:07 am

    Really nice idea, and will no doubt be very useful. However, the traditional model uses locally available natural materials such as clay and sand. It can be hand-made, and requires no industrial processing or shipping to Africa. Although this one looks a lot slicker and more efficient, the original is ultimately more accessible and more sustainable.

  8. jaxjt9 January 27, 2009 at 2:40 am

    Many of you sound like mean and bitter people. So what if the idea is not original. She took a year off to actually go to Africa to help people. Did any of you go? What did you to try and improve the lives of these people. Do you think you are better because you are better educated sitting at your computer making criticism of our next generation. Be thankful this girl is not some crack head degenerate that we already have enough of! Be thankful that she can see beyond her own need! This is our next generation. If there were more young people like her, this world would be better a place to live in.

    My advice to you old sour grapes is to stop throwing rocks from your glass house. Maybe if you spent more time encouraging our youth rather than criticizing them, you might actually have something to be proud of that you personally have done in your life.

  9. tonymikes January 26, 2009 at 4:58 pm

    I have seen a similar principal used to cool water. In the middle east / north africa they have used porous ceramic jugs to cool water for centuries. The water in the jug slowly moves through the porous ceramic and coats the outside of the jug. If left in a shaded area the water that evaporates cools the water inside significantly…
    New technology is rarely new! More often than not it is remade into something similar.

  10. gabrieltullis January 24, 2009 at 7:12 pm

    True, this was not invented by her.

  11. mazHur January 18, 2009 at 10:23 am

    it looks like an experiment to prove that evaporation has a cooling effect.
    this principle is already in use with ‘desert coolers’ to cool air.

    It would lose its efficiency if the ambient conditions are too humid.

  12. EMJAY January 18, 2009 at 9:02 am

    give her some credit at least its like a more refined version of the local, traditional type. shes only tryin to be innovative. even big corporations are doin the same thing. besides, what have ya’ll done lately!!

  13. Dr. Bill January 17, 2009 at 6:34 pm

    My recommendation for the girl….go back to college so you can learn about all the stuff that’s already been invented by other people.

  14. Dr. Bill January 17, 2009 at 6:30 pm

    As heartwarming as this story seems, this girl didn’t really “invent” anything. People in developing countries, in areas without electricity have been doing this for years under some version of the name “pot in a pot.” The principle is identical, however.

    Put one small pot inside one larger pot. Fill the space between the two pots with sand. Fill with water. Let the sun evaporate the water, thus making the internal temperature drop. But I can guarantee you that temperature will not drop to 43 degrees. Unless the external temperature is 60 degree. Evaporation can only drop the ambient temperature by (at most, 20 degrees).

  15. peterpan January 17, 2009 at 1:13 pm

    Its not an “invention” as others have pointed out. As a young child, we had a “water powered” fridge. It was like a conventional one, but you poured water into top! I’m not an OAP incidently:-).

  16. elsowell January 16, 2009 at 5:38 pm

    Yes this is an old idea proven by the previous comments but I guess none of you were smart enough to try and use it to help people like Emily has done. Nice job Emily!!

  17. chayd January 15, 2009 at 2:03 pm

    Don’t like to be cynical, but are we going to be seeing ‘Student Invents Wheel’ soon? Evaporative cooling containers have been around for millenia, previous examples used earthenware pots standing in a dish of water, the inside of which was glazed to prevent water ingress. This is a nice (if unnecessarily expensive) modern example of an age-old design.

  18. dirkdirk January 14, 2009 at 5:47 am

    She didn’t design that device. I read an article a few months back about people in third world countries using that technique with clay pots. No need for them to buy this device with what little money that they have if they already have clay pots around. Good idea, not hers

  19. crackgerbal January 13, 2009 at 1:23 pm

    Its a great idea, however, its not new. People of Africa have been using this design for a lot longer than you think. The only difference in the design is that the African’s used to use two clay jars with a gap in between them rather than metal.

    Congrats to her for coming up with good marketing strategies, but this method of cooling has been around for centuries and is not new technology. Not to say that it shouldn’t be more widely used to reduce energy consumption, but she did not invent this kind of cooling device.

  20. carlos January 13, 2009 at 11:12 am

    What a joke. This is called a “swamp cooler”. This method has been used to cool homes in the American southwest, for years. The higher the humidity, the less efficient it works. Changing the shape and size of the mechanism, does not an invention make.

  21. percyob1 January 13, 2009 at 7:22 am

    Although a very good and honourable idea, it is not new. In fact it is ancient and examples of it have been found in archaeology. I am not suggesting that Emily is ware of this and I do not wish to detract from her very good and very useful idea. Well done Emily 😉

  22. evanherk January 13, 2009 at 3:02 am

    1) It’s not solar-powered – in fact it will work better if you do not put it in the sun. No need to add extra heat, that just increases unnecessary evaporation without giving extra cooling. It will work best if you put it in a draft, but out of the sun.
    2) I doubt if you will get down to 6 degrees in a hot tropical environment, especially not if humidity is high. Maybe 10 degrees below ambient.
    3) it’s not a new idea, just a new way of packaging the wet layer.

  23. Morgenstern January 12, 2009 at 4:26 pm

    It’s a useful idea, but hardly new. Mohammed Bah Abba won a Rolex Award several years ago for his development of the very same idea.

  24. craigloftus January 12, 2009 at 3:04 pm

    How is this different from the Pot-in-Pot refrigerator which Inhabitat has covered in the past?

    It certainly works on the same principles, so it is a bit difficult to describe it as an invention… improvement on an existing design?

  25. seebrown January 12, 2009 at 1:49 pm
  26. bugmenot January 12, 2009 at 1:31 pm

    The concept was not invented by her, maybe she is not claiming that?
    Did she just improve on the design?

    Mohammed Bah Abba invented the device in 1995 and was awarded a Rolex Laureate is said in

  27. Johz January 12, 2009 at 12:01 pm

    Fantastic! This is true industrial design!

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