Taking a cue from kangaroos, elephants, bees and even termites, a team from the University of Calgary came up with a clever way to keep food cool without the need for expensive fridges, or even electricity.
The invention, dubbed WindChill, took first place in the student category in the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge, aimed at finding solutions borrowed from nature to improve the global food system.
"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," said team member Michelle Zhou.
The design borrows the burrowing and the fanning techniques employed by some animals, siphoning in air (think elephants ears) that is then cooled by tubes which partially run underground (think digging termites). This helps provide cheap, cold air for food refrigeration.
Cheap and portable
The goal was to build something that could be used in remote locations where electricity, and money, can be scarce.
"Anywhere from a quarter to half of the world's food goes to waste every year, and in rural populations — about 70 per cent of the people in rural Africa don't have access to electricity," said team member Jorge Zapote.
"So this at the moment uses a tiny bit of electricity from a solar panel, but the end design is to use zero electricity. So this could really help people in those areas."
The team is now looking forward to creating a prototype for the next round of competition and trying to reach their temperature goal.
"The 4.5 degree Celsius goal is the temperature that we need for the food to stop spoiling," said Zhou.