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An Appropriate Technology Project: A Solar Powered Vaccine Refrigerator

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Project-based Education in Energy Courses

Tagged Division

Energy Conversion and Conservation

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.140.1 - 15.140.17



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Paper Authors


Craig Somerton Michigan State University

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Craig W. Somerton is an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Michigan State University. He teaches in the area of thermal engineering including thermodynamics, heat transfer, and thermal design. Dr. Somerton has research interests in computer design of thermal systems, transport phenomena in porous media, and application of continuous quality improvement principles to engineering education. He received his B.S. in 1976, his M.S. in 1979, and his Ph.D. in 1982, all in engineering from UCLA.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

An Appropriate Technology Project: A Solar Powered Vaccine Refrigerator

Introduction Nearly half of the vaccines in developing countries go to waste every year due to temperature spoilage, according to the World Health Organization. Current transportation and storage methods in remote regions rely on ice packs that last just a few days. In order to maintain the optimal temperature range of 2 to 8° C for vaccine preservation, these regions need reliable long-term refrigeration where electricity is not available.

To address this problem, a capstone design team developed an affordable, robust refrigerator that operates with energy from the sun. The vaccine refrigerator was designed with simplicity as a focus for manufacturing, maintenance and daily use. It uses widely-available alcohol as a refrigerant and has no moving parts. Manufacturing can be completed with common materials and simple assembly techniques. After the initial vacuum charging, the refrigerator is designed to work without maintenance for three to five years.

In an effort to make this solar refrigeration technology available around the globe, the team’s final deliverable is a set of manufacturing plans that have been distributed for free on the Internet through the project’s partner, the Appropriate Technology Design Collaborative (ATDC. This open-source distribution will allow the refrigerator to be built by governments, local businesses and nonprofit organizations throughout Latin America, Africa and Central Asia.

A robust refrigerator has been designed that will prove its worth by reducing the volume of spoiled vaccines. Testing has revealed the technology can achieve temperatures as low as 4°C and that the complete cycle works as expected. At a cost of approximately $1,100 per refrigerator, it is expected to be within reach of governments and nonprofits. However, reducing the cost could increase its availability, even making the technology available to families for food preservation.

This paper documents the design and development process, including a trip to Guatemala to build and test the refrigerator. Feedback from the student team on their learning experiences is also shared. A guide is provided for those faculty who would like to undertake the supervision of an appropriate technology design project.

Background Recently the term Appropriate Technology has become prevalent in the efforts that the developed world is taking to assist developing countries. The term applies to technology for energy, water, and health that depart from the conventional western technology and is focused on the appropriate use of a developing country’s resources, so as to not disrupt its culture and environment. Further, the technology should be simple and inexpensive to employ and could

Somerton, C. (2010, June), An Appropriate Technology Project: A Solar Powered Vaccine Refrigerator Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--15994

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