A group of students from the University of Bath beat teams from around the world to win a global award for their design of a solar-powered fridge.

Jey Ashokkumaar, Georgina Beardsmore, Javier Klatovsky-Buey, Llyr Jones, Eliot Serrano-Davey and Thivinesh Pathmanathan earned a bronze award in the Efficiency for Access Design Challenge for their refrigerator, which could be used in off-grid communities in Sub-Saharan Africa.

840 million people around the world live without access to electricity or appliances that enable them to earn a living or provide essential services including cooling, refrigeration and communications. To develop markets for these appliances and enhance clean energy access, products need to become even more efficient and affordable.

The group, who are all studying for integrated masters degrees within the Department of Mechanical Engineering, proposed a fridge designed to use ethanal-carbon adsorption and solar energy to suit regional weather conditions. It also uses rigid polyurethane foam, which can result in fewer environmental impacts compared to alternatives.

The design is an open-topped cube, with three compartments comprising an adjustable humidity section, upper basket section and a large lower section. Free convection within the refrigerator allows for a uniform temperature gradient, being warmer towards the top. Frost and humidity are managed using a drainage hole and removable frost panel located between the cooling technology and internal space.

Efficiency for Access Design Challenge

Delivered by Efficiency for Access with the support of Engineers Without Borders UK, the challenge is a global, multi-disciplinary competition that empowers teams of university students to help accelerate clean energy access. It is supported by UK aid and the IKEA Foundation.

Teams were invited to design affordable and energy-efficient appliances and technologies for low to middle income countries. 

Organisers say that by bringing together and inspiring students, the Efficiency for Access Design Challenge fosters innovation in the off-grid appliances sector. The competition also sought to address barriers limiting market expansion in this area.   

The challenge began in September 2019 with students submitting their projects in April 2020 and presenting them to a panel of expert judges on 17 and 19 June. Participating universities were Durham University, Independent University of Bangladesh, Loughborough University, Makerere University, Strathmore University, Swansea University, University College London, University of Bath and the University of Strathclyde. 

Team member Llyr Jones said:

“It’s a great honour to receive the award, particularly for a technology that could have a real impact on people in need of reliable refrigeration. The potential for the design to work solely with a solar-powered supply is very exciting.”

International Environment Minister, Lord Zac Goldsmith, said:

“Climate change is one of the biggest global threats we face, so it’s fantastic to see students from Bath helping us to achieve a greener future by finding innovative solutions to improve access to clean energy. This not only protects the environment, but also people’s health.

“UK aid has already given 26 million people in the world’s poorest countries improved access to clean energy and we will continue to drive through such global change, including as hosts of COP26 next year.”

Jeffrey Prins, Head of Portfolio – Renewable Energy, IKEA Foundation, said:

“The IKEA Foundation is thrilled to celebrate the outstanding work of the winning teams in the inaugural year of the Efficiency for Access Design Challenge. If we are serious about delivering renewable energy access for all by 2030, we need innovative ideas from creative people today. The University of Bath team has done just that.”

Emma Crichton, Head of Engineering at Engineers Without Borders UK, said:

“We've been incredibly inspired by the students’ creativity, passion and approach to the Efficiency for Access Design Challenge, developing their learning through this real-world design challenge and further support from the off-grid industry mentors. Congratulations to the winning teams and all the students who took part in the competition.”