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  (Source: Good Clean Tech)

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Could use zero energy and could save lives


The green revolution has advanced several areas of the automotivepower, and appliance industries. Two refrigerators in the appliance category could change the face of the green industry in the kitchen. One is a futuristic concept called the Bio Robot Refrigerator, which would use gel to preserve food, and the other, a complete product, is a solar-powered refrigerator that stores vaccines in developing countries.  

The Bio Robot Refrigerator is an idea in its earliest stages by Electrolux's Design Lab competition semifinalist Yuriy Dmitriev, and is supposed to be a zero-energy refrigerator that uses a gel-like substance that is odor-free to preserve and cool food. It is four times smaller than a traditional refrigerator, but possesses maximized storage space and the absence of doors, which "allows horizontal or vertical placement and displays food in plain view."

What would make the Bio Robot Refrigerator zero-energy is that it would not contain a motor, compressor or any other electrical constituents. What would keep the food cool is a "green, biopolymer gel that uses luminescence to preserve food." The food item is pressed into the gel, and the gel closes in around it suspending the item in place. A "separate capsule" is created for each additional piece of food that is placed into the gel.

This design has raised some questions regarding how much weight the gel can hold and how the gel can affect different foods in terms of temperature and texture. But this concept is one of the first contemporary redesigns of the traditional refrigerator since freon-based models in the 1950's. 

While the gel concept contributes a zero-energy appliance, it is still a ways off from becoming a realistic part of any household. On the other hand, a solar-powered refrigerator provides both zero-energy cooling and is currently saving the lives of those who "are limited by a lack of available refrigeration for the storage of vaccines."

The solar-powered refrigerator was developed by Appropriate Technology Collaborative (ATC), which is a non-profit organization that works to develop technologies to "improve the lives of people in developing countries." ATC works to insure that the systems they develop can be made by local engineers from locally available materials. 

The ATC solar-powered vaccine refrigerator was made for certain parts of the world that require vaccines but have no source of refrigeration to keep them from spoiling. Due to this lack of refrigeration, more than half of the vaccines go bad before they're even administered, which leads to the death of millions of lives and the loss of billions of dollars. 

This refrigerator requires no electricity and contains no valves or moving parts, making maintenance an easy task. The inexpensive design provides cold storage for vaccines in developing countries, depending solely on sunlight to make it freeze. According to the ATC, the "ATC Solar Vaccine Refrigerator is a robust, easy to maintain technology that can be made in the country or region where it is to be used" and "is made out of simple materials that can be found in most cities like steel, charcoal and ethanol or methanol."

The ATC Solar Vaccine Refrigerator has been entered in the NASA Tech Briefs Create The Future Contest.


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Could use zero energy ...
By nah on 6/22/2010 7:49:00 AM , Rating: 2
Perhaps...but it would violate the second law of thermodynamics
# # If thermodynamic work is to be done at a finite rate, free energy must be expended.[8]

By therealnickdanger on 6/22/2010 8:49:01 AM , Rating: 3
Pfft, you guys and your crazy rules.

RE: Could use zero energy ...
By MrBlastman on 6/22/2010 9:57:52 AM , Rating: 2

First, thank you Tiffany for bringing this competition to our attention. There are some really neat, refreshing ideas in it that are straight out of science fiction. I can see myself spending some time reading through all of them.

And, well, it is just that--this competition is science fiction as far as I can tell. They are concepts that these people have thought up but have not been required to make them. Why do I feel this?

Simple: many of these designs are so far out there that even our current level of technology simply prevents them from existing in any practical manner. Take the food preparation system via neural interface. Great idea, using a centralized robot "factory" to make the food via a users instructions remotely using a VR helmet. The "giveaway" though, was the "hoverbots" delivering the food to the chef in their apartment many floors up.

Wait--hoverbots? We don't have those yet. We could--if someone put a monorail system in an apartment building but that would require a specially designed building and would hardly provide a freeform "hoverbot" system.

This refrigerator I suspect is the same thing. Really weird, outlandish idea though. I'd imagine the gel is completely nontoxic--as this would be a primary concern among the populace. One worry of mine though is how much of the gel sticks to the food container when you remove it? The system would need some sort of circulator or viscous coupling system with an enhance frontal layer of surface tension (perhaps make the gel a reactant to oxygen and air, thus hardening when exposed to it but behind a thin layer remains semi-viscous allowing it to flow slowly?

I imagine a film of the gel will be depleted by each subsequent object removal so at some point it would have to be refilled--thus, the need for viscosity within. This would ruin the concept of items remaining in place, though, as they would float around within. I see no mention of the concept addressing this. This brings me to my next point, that if you remove food containers and it has a film on it, that means you would have to wipe off every container, every time.

This would become highly annoying to the user. I don't see people adapting their habits to a second step of wiping off food containers when they remove it.

Neat idea, I just don't think he's worked all the kinks out. I also don't see the gel being one hundred percent energy neutral. Where is the heat exchanger? In order to remove heat from food, it has to be vented into the atmosphere as it can't possibly remain in the gel. Perhaps this it he concept of luminescence that is being alluded to--where the gel radiates photons as a result of excitation via heat induction from the food. If this were the case then well most probably--the energy being expended is from the food itself so, well, it isn't really "free."

What happens when there is no more warm food to be had? I suppose it would draw heat off of its surroundings thus cooling them as well, the light though being emitted, would add energy back into the surroundings. This machine can not possibly be one hundred percent efficient. The net output would add to the entropy surrounding it

Anyways, I'm rambling--I could go on for a while about this extracting the physics and their interactions. In the end, it looks to be the work of fiction and I'm happy for having something new to think about.

RE: Could use zero energy ...
By Ammohunt on 6/22/2010 2:10:53 PM , Rating: 2
I'm geling it.

RE: Could use zero energy ...
By stirfry213 on 6/22/2010 10:13:04 AM , Rating: 2
I don't see how it would violate any rule of thermodynamics. Per your wikipedia link, it states the following:
The second law of thermodynamics is an expression of the universal principle of decay observable in nature. It is measured and expressed in terms of a property called entropy, stating that the entropy of an isolated system which is not in equilibrium will tend to increase over time, approaching a maximum value at equilibrium...

There is virtually no information on how this device works. However, the article does not lend to any denial of the move towards total entropy on a total system scale. So you are removing heat (energy) from a localized area, but it is still being absorbed and spread out through entropy to the entire system.

Of course, if you want to get technical, this theory only applies to a finite system. If the Universe is infitite, the whole idea is void. How can you spread infinite amounts of energy, through entropy, evenly across infinite amounts of space. You will never reach your "maximum value at equilibrium".

RE: Could use zero energy ...
By geddarkstorm on 6/22/2010 2:27:34 PM , Rating: 2
Pray tell how this

What would keep the food cool is a "green, biopolymer gel that uses luminescence to preserve food."

could ever work? Luminescence preserving food? Cooling food? What? I guess they are thinking the heat energy in the object would be slowly radiated out as light by the biopolymer (with no heat transfer back through the polymer from your nice, hot house environment?). Never mind issues of efficiency, transference rate, or break down of the biopolymer (that's where the second law of thermal dynamics will actually come into play).

Just how cold can this thing make an object before the energy activation barrier is too high (not enough heat left) to trigger the luminescence reaction? Would that be 4 degrees centigrade? And how fast will the cool down occur? Next problem, how will this survive the ambient temperature of the environment it's in, being your house. How bright will this thing be? Do you want a gigantic refrigerator light in your kitchen?

I dunno about you, but this sounds like a fairy tale.

By Mojo the Monkey on 6/22/2010 3:11:26 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah - taking a look at the project, its just a concept. Not sure that this is reportable.

Guess what, I have a concept for my molecule printer to print out cold food for me to consume. No actual science yet, just an idea. FEATURE ME ON A DAILY TECH ARTICLE PLEASE!

RE: Could use zero energy ...
By guacamojo on 6/22/2010 4:20:05 PM , Rating: 2
How this could ever work?

Easy answer: it doesn't.

This is a design-school project. A refrigerator that doesn't have to work in order to win first place. It uses high-tech buzzwords ("bioluminescence", "biopolymer gel"), an interesting (if implausible) form, and those renderings make it look oh-so sexy.

Just like the Zero Bike (google it) of 20 years ago, it's a completely impractical idea, relying on magic technology to make it work.

The problem is, no technology, no matter how magical, can get around basic thermodynamics. It takes a power source to maintain a thermal gradient over an indefinite timeframe. Period.

If the gel were solar-powered, or sugar-powered, or anything, then at least that might have a chance. But zero power = zero refrigeration.

Something a little closer...
By knutjb on 6/22/2010 11:31:21 AM , Rating: 2 This looks promising and does have great potential. Its the kind of tech that is living in the real world with practical application.

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