Each year, NASA celebrates one invention out of the many “spinoff” technologies that the agency inspires as the NASA Commercial Innovation of the Year. This past spring, the prestigious title was bestowed on a solar refrigeration solution designed to support life on the moon, but has huge application here on Earth. With approximately 2 billion of Earth’s inhabitants without electricity, the technology developed at Johnson Space Center boasts not only commercial potential, but the opportunity to significantly impact the lives of those in remote areas.
The solar refrigeration technology, which has resulted in three patents, was originally intended to cool habitats in space. However, co-developers Michael Ewert and David Bergeron, who worked on the NASA Advanced Thermal Team acknowledged the need for a comparable solar refrigerator that could operate in conjunction with the simple solar lighting systems already in place on Earth. Working together they modified the lunar “solar photovoltaic heat pump” device to produce a refrigerator with a vapor compression, battery-free cooling system that converts electricity from solar photovoltaic panels into thermal energy that is stored internally using low-cost phase-change materials. Now licensed to SunDanzer Refrigeration Inc, the proven system eliminates reliance on an electric grid, requires no batteries, and stores thermal energy for efficient use when sunlight is absent. Designed to work just about anywhere in the world, the current direct-drive solar refrigerator is a chest-type cabinet with a 105-liter internal volume, a lockable top-opening door, a corrosion-resistant coated steel exterior, and a low-frost system.
Making a Difference
Such a scalable, energy-efficient resource can be an incredible asset where people don’t yet have refrigeration, including remote automated weather stations, forest stations, cabins, vacation houses, eco-friendly resorts, farms, street vendor carts, remote medical centers, transportation vehicles and underdeveloped areas.
For example, in a recent exciting development, SunDanzer has developed and is marketing one of the first battery-free solar-powered refrigerators suitable for safely storing vaccines. This unit received World Health Organization precertification in November 2011. Now those “without access to electricity that is essential for storage of vaccines and medicine”…can…”greatly reduce the cost and increase the availability of vaccines delivered to the poorest, neediest people in remote regions” says Jim Airola, director of business development at SunDanzer. And according to Michael Ewert, this is just the beginning. Ewert says “The NASA battery-free solar technology could be used to cool milk, produce or other consumer products in under-developed regions around the world, thus creating economic opportunities and improving lives on Earth.”
Want More Information?
This technology is part of NASA’s Innovative Partnerships Program, which seeks to transfer technology into and out of NASA to benefit the space program and U.S. industry. NASA invites companies to inquire about the licensing possibilities for the Solar-Powered Refrigeration Technology (MSC-22970). For information about this and other technology licensing opportunities, contact:
Strategic Opportunities and Partnerships Development Office
NASA’s Johnson Space Center