Designing a solar-powered refrigerator to store vaccines




In 2008, WHO estimated that 1.5 million deaths among children under 5 years were due to vaccine-preventable diseases. Immunization systems in low-resource areas are unsustainable due to a lack of electricity, unreliable transportation, and gaps in the vaccine supply chain. The Solar Fridge is an inexpensive, low-maintenance adsorption refrigerator for long-term, on-site vaccine storage that ensures the safety and viability of vaccines in low-resource communities. Between 2008 and 2012, this project transitioned between different departments and teams. Although the general focus of vaccine sustainability has persisted, the user needs and target population were either lost or not found. Therefore, the project has recently focused efforts on the reevaluation of its needs assessment approach. During the summer of 2017, our team performed a problem definition trip with our community partners in Rincon Claro--a small village in the Dominican Republic. We learned that the greatest problem they are facing is on-site vaccine storage, making the Solar Fridge a perfect fit. We also visited other communities and validated this as an overarching problem in this region. This trip has helped Solar Fridge in re-establishing a need, allowing for future progress towards improving vaccine sustainability.

The Problem

Vaccines prevent disease and save lives every year. However, vaccines are extremely sensitive to temperature and must be kept within a range of 2-8 degrees Celsius. In rural areas with extremely warm climates and unreliable electricity, keeping vaccines at their optimal temperature is a challenge. According to the World Health Organization, vaccines prevent more than 2.5 million child deaths a year, yet nearly 24 million children under one year of age are not being vaccinated. There is a need for an alternative way of refrigerating vaccines to help these rural regions.

Adsorption Refrigerators

Adsorption refrigerators use thermal energy to keep the contents of the refrigerator at a desired temperature. At night, the pressure and temperature in the refrigerant system decrease, and the heat from the cold chamber evaporates the liquid refrigerant. The adsorbent material in the solar collector then adsorbs this vaporized refrigerant. During the day, the heat is absorbed by a silica gel, causing the pressure and temperature of the refrigerant in the adsorbent material to increase. The refrigerant is then released as a vapor, which then travels in a condenser, releasing heat to the environment before it condenses back into a liquid. The refrigerant returns back to the evaporator, and the cycle can begin again.

Our Project

The Solar Fridge team is split into two subteams: engineering and business. On the engineering side, all of the components of the fridge have been built and tested individually. The next step is to assemble them in a modular fashion and perform fridge level testing. Meanwhile, the business subteam is working to develop a business plan and apply to local competitions.


Project Leads

Adam Racette |

saswat sahoo |