Human-Powered Refrigerator Case

A human-powered refrigeration system designed to help in the distribution of vaccines in developing nations has been named the US Winner of the James Dyson Award. The innovative product was designed by Rogers Feng, a student of Northwestern University in Chicago, who recognized that many vaccines need to be kept refrigerated between 2 and 8 degrees Celsius—something that is often hard to accomplish in developing nations.

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Speaking about the problems of storing medical equipment in developing countries, Feng said: “These challenges make for some pretty tough odds. In fact, the World Health Organization reports that vaccine wastage rates may be as high as 50% in some cases. Both lives and money are being lost. I first became aware of this problem a few months ago during a conversation with a friend and was inspired to take action.”

“This is a problem in developing nations. Even if the regional hospital has refrigeration equipment, the vaccines still need to be distributed to individual villages. Vaccine distribution workers typically use ice boxes and are faced with two problems as a result.”

His human-powered refrigeration unit uses a manual turning device to power a small generator that charges a 9V rechargeable Lithium-ion battery. In turn, the battery powers thermoelectric cooling. By turning the lever for five minutes, one person is able to provide 15 minutes of power.

The simple design has three main advantages over more conventional models. First, the circuitry prevents sudden drops in ambient temperature from causing freezing, which would destroy vaccines. This is a safety feature that many developing world-oriented refrigerators lack. Secondly, there are no refrigerant fluids that could potentially leak, making this an environmentally-friendly product and thirdly, it is relatively inexpensive; with an estimated unit cost of $50.

The Dyson Award has received nearly 550 entries from 18 countries and challenges students and recent graduates to solve an everyday problem in a creative way. Rogers Feng will receive $1,400 and move on to the international final, which will be held in November.

+ James Dyson Award