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Absorption Refrigeration Geoff Galgon Gloria Loukota

Contents History of Energy Team Mission Statement and Identification of Problem Market Research Methods and Sources Primary Research Secondary Research Summary of Primary Market Research Results Business Owners Homeowners Summary of Secondary Market Research Results Marketing and Engineering Specification Matrix Brief Overview of Refrigerator Technologies and Reason for Choice Sketch and Prototype General Reasons for Potential Success Potential Business Plans Necessary Future Work Appendix A: DFX Considerations Appendix B: Costs & Potential Business Plan/Timetable Appendix C: Absorbency Data 3 3 3 3 3 3 4 4 4 5 5 6 8 9


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History of Energy Team: A team of five students and professionals worked in Guatemala during the summer of 2008, focusing on human power generation, particularly pedal-power based systems. In this vein, a series of studies was performed on a pedal power electricity generator. It was found that even with very efficient (expensive) systems, in order to generate 1 KWh of energy one would have to pedal at vigorous tempo for 10 continuous hours. In short, the contextual information gathered from the fieldwork of the team revealed that pedal power was decidedly inappropriate for their target market. Our team therefore decided not to pursue this topic any further, and focused on a much different problem--refrigeration. Other options included work on lighting systems, which has been receiving attention in the African context recently. Mission Statement and Identification of Problem: In rural Guatemala, the cost of running a refrigerator is prohibitive to many who wish to either start a business selling refrigerated products, or expand their current business to include the sale of these products. Our mission is to provide an economically appropriate refrigeration system that can be used by both of these groups to improve their earning potential, as well as by those individuals already operating a refrigerator who want to save on the heavy electricity cost of operation. Our refrigerator must use either minimal, or preferably zero, electricity to run. Based on our contextual (market) findings and specifications, as well as the inherent capabilities and limitations of various technologies, we've identified an absorption-based heat-regenerated refrigeration system as a possible solution. Due to the requirement of a frequently operated heat source in this technology and financing requirements, our primary initial target market is comedores and tortillerias. Market Research Methods and Sources: Primary Research: In-depth interviews of 35 business owners (17 tiendas, 8 comedores, and 10 tortillerias). In-depth interviews of 32 homeowners (farmers, juice and phone card sellers, etc.) Observational experience. Both members of the team are personally familiar with what typical tiendas, comedores, and tortillerias look like. Secondary Research: microloan for refrigerator and juice supplies purchase. Summary of Primary Market Research Results:

Business owners: All comedores have refrigerators with freezers, all tiendas have refrigerators, and half of the tiendas have freezers provided by Saita, an ice cream company. Roughly 20% of tortillerias have refrigerators used to sell natural juices and sodas. The cost of running one refrigerator is roughly $30/month. Depending on the electricity savings of a new refrigerator, business owners therefore expressed a willingness to pay $10-$30/month towards its purchase. Cerveceria Centroamericana, Coca-Cola, etc. often provide refrigerators for free under the condition that the business sells 300-400 units of product (beer/soda) per month. If these requirements are not met, the company lender can forcibly remove the refrigerators. Because of the high cost of purchasing a new refrigerator however, only 10% of the business owners surveyed had such a non-affiliated refrigerator Homeowners: Household size generally varies from 5-12 people. Almost all of those surveyed (92%) were interested in starting a business selling refrigerated products from their home, provided of course that it increased their earning capacity. We shouldnt be surprised with this figure, given the observable ubiquity of small home-based shops in Guatemala and surrounding countries. The space that could be allotted for such a refrigerator is (base x height) ~ (50-75 x 100-150 cm). Homeowners expressed a willingness to pay $2-$13/month to finance a refrigerator (again provided that there was electricity savings). Summary of Secondary Market Research Results: Kiva loan: Kiva distributed a loan through the Foundation for Assistance for Small Businesses in Guatemala in August 2008 to Irma Martinez of $475 to purchase a $400 refrigerator and $75 dollars worth of juice. Irma is running her business from prison, and shes able to buy unrefrigerated juice for $.25 and sell it back refrigerated for $.50.1 This type of refrigerator to support business loan is especially common in parts of Africa and South Asia. Marketing and Engineering Specifications Matrix: Based on our market research, we formulated the following list of market specifications, and translated these (where appropriate) to engineering specifications: Marketing Specifications Electricity savings over existing refrigerators Engineering Specifications (Translated) Use either no electricity, or only electricity for a small part of the cooling cycle (say 300W for 20

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min/day). Cheap (or at least comparable) to $150 production cost, leading to $200 price. purchase Attractive Easy to use Color-code Durable Cooling unit able to be dropped from 4 feet repeatedly while full or operating. Conveniently sized Footprint of (.75)^2 meters^2. Comes in large and small sizes Modular cooling unit, able to fit in multiple size coolers Easy to fix or maintain Use common, not exotic parts Require a low replacement frequency (less than once per year). Effective Able to cool a cubic meter insulated box to less than 6 deg. C for 12 hours. Brief Overview of Refrigeration Technologies and Reasons for Choice: The number of basic refrigeration technologies is quite limited, though there have been many different designs exploiting their thermodynamic cycles in different ways. Broadly speaking, refrigeration may be achieved by simple evaporative cooling, vaporcompression, vapor-absorption, thermoelectric, or magnetic means. Thermoelectric and magnetic refrigeration can be quickly rejected for this application due to power (scalability) and cost, respectively, while evaporative cooling technologies, while by far the cheapest, would probably only work well during the dry season and could not fully provide the level of cooling required by our marketing specifications. We believe, however, that there may be creative ways of increasing the cooling capacity of simple evaporative systems, though we decided not to pursue this option. Therefore we decided to proceed with vapor-absorption as an electricity-free or electricity-minimizing alternative to the vapor-compression standard. Below is our idea. We focused primarily on the design of the cooling unit, though obviously the integration of this unit into a display or insulation unit needs to be further considered, based on more specific market data reflective of the technological capabilities of the system: Sketch and Prototype (DFX Considerations, Appendix A): Note: Our physical prototype uses two steel boxes instead of aluminum due to availability issues.

Physical Prototype


Cycle Life: Regeneration Phase: The canister containing the absorbent (in our case cat litter) saturated with water is placed on the stove, where the water boils off through a check valve (or manually operated valve) into the other chamber. Eventually (in our tests after 30 or 40 min), the absorbent is regenerated.

Condensing Phase: In this phase the device is removed from the stove and allowed cool. After a bit of time, the steam will condense back into water, to later become the coolant.

Cooling Phase: The refrigeration unit is inverted and fit into an insulated box (the refrigerator). The non-check valve is opened. If necessary, a vacuum is applied briefly to the system, in order to equalize the vapor pressure of the water to the internal environment. Once this is achieved, the vacuum is shut off, and the absorbent will continuously absorb vapor for several hours. This absorption process draws heat from the outside environment, and cooling is achieved.

General Reasons for Potential Success: Running cost: Our surveys reveal that the electricity cost of running a refrigerator is roughly $25/month. The cost of operating an absorption-based system is potentially zero, provided that waste heat from an oven or stove can be used. Even if an electrical pump were used to provide a vacuum for increased efficiency (we demonstrate a cheaper aspirator based pump system that requires only basic water pressure), this would only need to be run for about 20 minutes per day, at a monthly cost of at most .3kW*1 hour*30 days=9kWh *$.15/kWh=$1.40/month. Brand Independence: Use of this refrigerator would obviously not require the owner to sell a specific set of products, which is the case with company-sponsored refrigerators. So even though compression refrigerators may be supplied at no cost by beverage companies (Cerveceria Centro Americana, Coca-Cola, etc.), shop owners are tied into stocking specific sets of products, so that owning a nonbranded refrigerator would provide an inherent competitive advantage. Furthermore, these branded refrigerators come with selling-volume requirements, meaning that a business that relied crucially on the sale of refrigerated products and had a bad quarter--selling less than the required quantity--might be ruined by the forced removal of their refrigerator. This of course would not be an issue with our refrigerator. Furthermore, an electricity savings of $20/month would imply that a $200 initial investment could be recouped in less than a year, not including the potential for increased sales due to product variety. Electricity-less: Multi-day power outages are not uncommon in parts of Guatemala, so a refrigerator that doesnt use electricity might even be preferred to one that does, especially if food or other product spoiling/heating is a concern. In those regions still off the grid, an electricity-free refrigerator has obvious value. Not Impossible to Use: We imagine a situation where a comedor owner would regenerate & condense the system at night after closure, and begin the refrigeration in the morning in time for customers. The slow-cycle of the product as compared to vapor compression here is not necessarily a huge downside then in this application. That is, the active refrigeration will be active while the cooler is opened and closed to retrieve drinks, and passive during the night. Potential Business Plans: Weve considered several different potential models for a business based on the sale of these refrigerators, should they be proven effective. Key is finding a balance between inhouse firm control and outside contracting. Business Model No financing, in-house promotion, manufacture, and sales. Costs and Benefits Pro: Complete control over the distribution of product. Potentially able to cut costs. Con: Virtually impossible for a small firm to handle all of these aspects of their operation, especially in a foreign environment.

No financing, contract with local maintenance/smaller shops

No financing, contract with larger sellers (Azteca/Electra, etc.)

In-house financing plan, with other permutations above

Contract with MFI (Micro-finance Institution) for financing system

Pro: Remove the burden of operating a retail business while still maintaining control over distribution, product location, etc. Con: Possibly difficult to manage effectively sales by third parties in several different locations. Depending on the agreement with local shops, varying degrees of revenue are lost by the contract. Pro: Dont need to manage distribution, only control manufacture. Potentially large coverage, advertising, etc. Con: Possibly virtually no control over the distribution, sales, pricing, etc. part of the business. Potentially significant losses in (direct) revenue. Obviously difficult to contract with such venders. Discussion: In general, offering a financial plan to offset a large initial cost that would be recouped rather quickly offers us the potential to reach more customers. In terms of offering our own financing plan, this would have the benefit of being able to control interest rates to a reasonable level, contract with whomever we judge investment worthy, etc. However, in the microfinance industry, particularly with regard to micro lending, the return on equity (and moreover the default rate) that MFIs can offer varies significantly between institutions2. Broadly speaking, this is probably because MFIs have different abilities to identify good borrowersthose that will not use the money to, say, finance a childs wedding ceremony. Such ability comes with experience, so we believe that in this case its best when dealing with micro credit packages that we, not having such experience, contract with what are typically termed financially self-sustainable MFIs. Lists are available of such Guatemalan MFIs3

Our preferred business model would be the final one detailed above (MFI partnership), in conjunction with a distribution system based on local shops (not the Electra-size 2 3 9

distributers). That is, we would contract with a local manufacturer to make the refrigerator, then distribute this product to local hardware or repair shops for sale. They would then collect a commission based on how many units sold. Such a model strikes a balance between personal control, profit sharing, and effectiveness. A total cost breakdown of such a business may be found in Appendix B. Under this analysis, we foresee a small-scale business operating into profitable margins at maturity. Necessary Future Work: In terms of our progress, we believe we've demonstrated that at least in certain circumstances in Guatemala, it's economically feasible to harvest waste energy from cooking fires for use as the energy input in an absorption-based refrigerator system. We also believe that there may exist a significant potential for absorption based refrigeration systems to be distributed anywhere where large quantities of heat are essentially wasted (tortillerias and comedores in Guatemala, chai shops in Nepal, Dhabas in India, etc.). So even though the efficiency of these refrigerators might not be as high as compression systems, their usage costs, and potentially their construction costs, would be dramatically lower in these environments. Indeed, in locations without electricity, short of installing some sort of generator, evaporative cooling or absorption systems are the only options. Such potential wide application might mean that securing research funding for future work would be made easier. Furthermore, this application of the technology (absorption refrigeration) in this way is a somewhat novel idea today, evidenced by the fact that currently available absorption systems either use large solar collectors for true energy independence in remote regions or are meant for the high-end American RV market. Obviously the potential impact that an appropriate technology could have here worldwide in terms of food spoilage prevention, etc. is great. Therefore, we'd be thrilled if this topic continued to receive attention from future E105/Landivar classes. Both of us would be happy to act as advisors to future groups (though perhaps not possibly in person). Indeed, a lot of further work needs to be done on the technological development of our system, much of it probably requiring a laboratory or workshop setting. Specifically, in order to have a truly successful product, we believe that the following broad design issues need to be addressed further: Determining the cooling power of the system under various configurations. That is, under various pressures, refrigerant/absorbent pairings, etc. We werent able to build a fully functional prototype in time for the conclusion of the class, due to an error in pipe length that required a re-weld, which prevented proper sealing of the system. However, we were able to perform a proof of concept test for an inexpensive vacuum generator, capable of inducing sufficient vacuum (<50 torr) to boil water at room temperature in a few seconds.4 Furthermore, an extended discussion with Yuri Sylvester, a member of a team at Cornell that 4 10

worked on a similar device5 provides proof of technological capability (cooling ability of water/zeolite absorption-based systems). Cycle optimization. A key point of our design is that the cooling device can be run through several cycles without modifying the internal components. We suspect that while this may be possible, overtime losses of efficiency and ability might appear (due to trapped water, rust, pressure difficulties, etc.). Work needs to be done to investigate how to ensure that this doesnt happen. Integration Into Insulated Box. In addition to the cooling device, a mature product would need to be paired with an insulated box, or potentially a variety of such containers for making ice in one application, cooling certain sets of products in another, etc. Modifications to broken compression refrigerators could also be considered, as well obviously of commercially available cheap (<$10-$15) coolers.

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Appendix A: DFX Considerations. Note: This is not a complete list. There are probably unintentional omissions that weve mentioned in past assignments, but at least in terms of the Design For X ideas themselves, the reader can judge for himself whether their implementation (or at least attempted implementation) is considerate or not. Design for Manufacture/Assembly: Our design uses entirely standard parts. Competent welding is all thats required for assembly. Exact dimensions of components arent important, so long as seals are robust. Design for Re-use: If screw-fittings are used (which we have in our prototype, because we anticipated cycles of disassembly & assembly, and wanted to be able to take it on a plane, but which cost more than welded sealing), then even if the product stopped being used, the chance that the NPT threaded pipe, ball-valves, or other fittings would be damaged is small, and there is always a demand for these products in the market. The vacuum potentially employed (aspirator) is entirely solid state and would not lose re-sell value. Furthermore, unlike a traditional refrigerator, there arent potentially hazardous chemicals in our design, and disassembly is rapid and worthwhile for parts if the product isnt needed anymore. Design for the Environment: Again, unlike compression designs, particularly older ones that use Freon & close derivatives, etc., this product does not contain any materials hazardous to the environment. Design for Sustainability: By focusing on potential income generation to act as an engine for sales growth of the refrigerator, we envision a sustainable business that automatically advertises itself every day due to the visibility in tortillerias, etc. of the product. It is our hope that alternative refrigerator designs to vapor compression can eventually help alleviate some of the problems that come with food spoilage worldwide. The idea is that the juice sales market is potentially easier to enter and to prove oneself in, given businesses greater financing capability. Design for Extremely Low Cost: Several steps were taken to minimize cost, including: -Use of standard parts -Use of low-cost absorbent/refrigerant (maximum combined cost of $2 dollars) -No complicated machining (odd shapes) -Very simple component-type design. Design for Maintainability:


Our prototype allows entry at several points, though a more mature version of the product probably would not (see remarks earlier). However, there should always be an entry point integrated into one or both of the boxes.

Design for Human Interface/Ergonomics & Safety: Our original design called for a type of handle to facilitate movement and inversion of the product that turned out to be ergonomically awkward. A simpler version was identified fairly immediately with the help of the actual prototype. The red color of one of the boxes, along with probably a fire icon, will indicate which compartment to expose to flame to help prevent misuse. More exotic and effective, but potentially dangerous refrigerants were not considered. The weight of the (completely filled) devise is around 10 kiloswe thought that anything larger, which would naturally have more cooling power, would not be ergonomically appropriate. Design for Reliability: We conducted a drop test, dropping the prototype onto the ground. No observable damage was done. However, due again to a re-weld the sealing of the prototype couldnt be properly established, so we werent able to test if the drop might affect that (though this seems unlikely with good welding). Ideally though, we can envision a more encapsulated (structurally framed) version of the product that would prevent undue environmental interaction with the internal components. Design for Cultural Acceptability: The entire idea of marketing such a refrigerator towards tortillerias, etc., knowing by survey work that many people are receptive (and financially capable) to the idea, is based around cultural considerations.


Appendix B: Costs & Potential Business Plan/Timetable. Cost of actual prototype (Note: Labor cost of welding boxes, etc. included in the price of these items): Steel box Threaded tube 2 Threaded tube 6 Union Ball Valve Teflon Screws (1 pound) Aspirator Pump Accessories Tubing Silica Total Cost of non-airport going version: Steel box Tube 3 Ball Valve Aspirator Pump Accessories Tubing Silica Extra Labor Total Quantity 2 4 2 & 1 1 1 1 Price (each) Q. 150.00 Q. 4.00 Q. 48.00 Q. 100.00 Q. Q. Q. Q. 8.00 10.00 20.00 550.00 Quantity 2 2 2 4 2 1 4 & 1 1 1 Price (each) Q. 150.00 Q. 4.50 Q. 6.50 Q. 4.00 Q. 48.00 Q. 4.50 Q. 10.00 Q. 100.00 Q. 10.00 Q. 10.00 Q. 569.50

The technician who welded the boxes, etc. for the prototype claims that with production in volume, the end cost would go down by 25% for these items, leading to a final total cost (including vacuum) of Q. 450 = $60 for the cooling unit. A re-tooled cooler (insulated box) would cost an additional $15-$20, depending on the configuration, brining the total for the entire system up to ~$80. Business Plan Cost Analysis: Notes: We imagine a somewhat localized (hence the limitation on numbers), sustainable business as described above. Start up Costs: Administrative (coordination, placement, financing), $660 + $200 14

3 month @ $10/day + Training Materials & construction cost (10 units) Financing System Overhead & Contract Total Eventual Annual Cost (50 units & 100 units / year): 50 units/year Administrative (coordination, placement, etc.), 1 year @ $10/day Materials & construction cost (50 units) Misc. Logistics Financing System Overhead Total 100 units/year Administrative (coordination, placement, etc.), 1 year @ $10/day Materials & construction cost (50 units) Misc. Logistics Financing System Overhead Total Eventual Annual Revenue (Selling $170): Units/year 10 50 100 Timeline: Period Startup (10 units, 6 months, 1 month equiv. salary) Transition (50 units) Maturity (100 units)

$800 ~$10/unit = $100 $1760

$2600 $4000 $1000 $500 $8100 $2600 $8000 $2000 $1000 $13600

$1700 $8500 $17000

Time 6 months. 30 months >30 months

Profit (Revenue-Cost) -$60 $800 $3400/year

Expansion into non-Guatemalan markets would imply possibility of expansion, and we believe that given a viable, proven (Guatemala market) refrigerator this would not be an impossible challenge. As above, though, far more work has to be done to achieve this condition. The motivation for this work accordingly should look beyond supplying comedores with a more efficient way of selling chilled beverages, though this may turn out to be the best means of providing a specific platform for product development.


Appendix C: Absorbency Test Sheets Test 1; absorptions Substance Sodium Bentonite (1) Silica Gel (2) Sodium Bentonite (3) Silica Gel (4) Dry Mass (g) 70.02 50.57 75.04 76.51 120 deg. C, 30 min. Test 2; 2nd absorption Sodium Bentonite (1) Silica Gel (2) Water Absorption post-heated Mass (g) (mL) % Water / Mass 88.50 30.00 0.34 62.80 38.00 0.61 140 deg. C, 30 min. Test 3; 3rd absorption Sodium Bentonite (1) Silica Gel (2) Uses (SB) 1 2 3 Uses (Silica) 1 2 3 1.05 0.61 1.08 Water Absorption post-heated Mass (g) (mL) % Water / Mass 82.50 35.00 0.42 50.90 55.00 1.08 % Water / Mass 0.71 0.34 0.42 Water Absorption % Water / Mass (mL) 50.00 0.71 53.00 1.05 46.00 0.61 70.00 0.91

Conclusions: Large variability between instances of re-heating indicates that a near complete regeneration is highly ideal. Silica is overall superior to the bentonite in terms of both total absorbency capability and ease of regeneration, etc. It does cost more, but the cost of the zeolite does not contribute significantly to overall product cost (see above).