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Students Design Elephant-Inspired Refrigerator That Doesn’t Need Electricity to Keep Food Cold

The eco-friendly WindChill unit could change the way remote communities prevent perishables from going dangerously bad.

Image via WindChill/Biomimicry.org

“Is your refrigerator running? … Well, better go catch it!”


So goes the painfully groan-worthy prank call trope of yesteryear—a throwback to an era before people had caller ID (and, judging by the joke itself, before they had a decent sense of humor). But, just as crank phone calls have become something of an anachronism, is it possible the refrigerator as we know it is destined to become a thing of the past as well?

Perhaps, thanks to a group of students from Canada’s University of Calgary. There, a team of enterprising engineers have taken cues from unlikely sources such as elephants, kangaroos, and even termites, and drastically reimagined the ubiquitous box we use to keep our food cold. The result: a cheap, efficient, and entirely un-electrified unit which could radically change the way rural communities keep their perishables fresh and unspoiled.

Dubbed the “WindChill,” the system is in some ways similar to a standard root cellar (or the modern equivalent) in that it uses the naturally cooling effect of below-ground storage to keep food frosty. However, rather than simply rely on the earth to lower the temperature of the unit itself, the WindChill actively draws in air, and uses subterranean climate control coupled with the naturally cooling effect of evaporated moisture, in order to maintain an optimally preservative temperature.

Here’s the team, explaining the process:

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And here’s Jorge Zapote, the team’s leader, walking CBC News through a constructed WindChill unit:

The WindChill recently took top place at the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge, which tasks participants with creating sustainability solutions inspired by the natural world. As team member and chemical engineer Michelle Zhou explained to CBC News, “We thought it would be good to decrease the amount of food waste in the world, and we came up with this design because it's easy to build and the materials are relatively cheap.”

[via science alert]