Solutions for Self-Reliance

Low- and High-Tech Refrigerator Innovations

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Keeping our foods fresh is important whether we purchase produce in the grocery store or harvest it from our own backyard garden.

After all, the freezer can only hold so many items and long-term preservation techniques (canning, dehydrating, etc.) are time-consuming and often strip essential nutrients from our favorite foods.

I wanted to highlight two new products that can make short-term food preservation much easier. One is a simple design that has been used as a way to keep foods cold for thousands of years.

The other is at the opposite end of the spectrum and uses modern technology to keep foods fresh longer and can even increase the nutritional value of stored produce.

Low-Tech: The Mitti Cool Refrigerator

What if you could keep food cold for days without electricity? The Mitti Cool Refrigerator can do just that. Mitti Cool is a company based in India that started making earthenware pans in the late 1980’s.

Through trial and error, the founder, Mansukhbhai Prajapati, eventually came up with the design for a new kind of refrigerator that uses old technology to keep foods cold using the evaporative power of water.

Mitti Cool refrigerator

The refrigerator is constructed of clay and has two chambers. The top chamber holds regular water. This water drips down the sides of the refrigerator and evaporates to create a cooling effect. The top chamber also includes a faucet tap to extract drinking water.

The bottom chamber has two shelves for storing fruits, vegetables, milk and other perishable items for days without electricity.

If you have ever used an evaporative cooler (sometimes called a swamp cooler) in lieu of an air conditioner in arid climates, you already know how effective evaporative cooling can be. We use an evaporative cooler in my Northern California home and it works better than any conventional air conditioner while using a lot less power.

Unfortunately, they only work well in dry climates so if you live in a humid region of the country you’re stuck using AC.

Anyway, no electricity, no maintenance requirements and the ability to keep food fresh for days at a time – seems like a pretty sustainable refrigeration solution to me.

Mitti Cool has a few other interesting clay products as well including an attractive clay cooking pot with a sealed lid and a clay water filtration system capable of filtering 2 liters of water per hour.

Cooking pot

These products appeal to a couple of markets. Obviously, I think items like these are something we should consider as members of the sustainability movement, but there is also a growing demand for these products in under-developed countries.

Many of these people do not have access to electricity or even potable water. These products are affordable and could significantly increase the standard of living for people around the world.

High-Tech: Electrolux NutriLight

Now on to the new tech. Electrolux has developed a new refrigerator equipped with an innovative system called NutriLight. This special lighting system is designed to add energy and nutrients back into produce while it’s stored in the refrigerator.

NutriLight

NutriLight doesn’t emit UV light which often damages produce post-harvest. Instead, the lighting system basically mimics photosynthesis and keeps produce fresh for much longer. Although NutriLight won’t keep vegetables fresh forever, it certainly increases the shelf life of our produce.

This is especially important for organic vegetables sourced directly from the farm as they tend to decay much faster than store bought produce treated with chemicals to improve shelf life.

Unfortunately, NutriLight-equipped refrigerators are currently only available in Asian markets, but an Electrolux spokesperson said the company is considering introducing the technology to North American markets soon.

If you’re thinking about replacing your old refrigerator, consider waiting a little longer to see if the NutriLight makes it over here anytime soon.

There have been some other great ideas for modern refrigerators that apparently didn’t make it into the mainstream. I remember reading a couple years ago about a Swedish designer who was working with Whirlpool to create a refrigerator with built-in hydroponics. Vegetables and herbs could be grown in the refrigerator – lighting and watering was done automatically.

I tried to locate new information on this design, but it looks like the idea never went into mass production (at least as far as I can tell).

Today’s refrigerator is a massive appliance that consumes large amounts of power. I like the idea of using the space taken up by the refrigerator in new and innovative ways.

For those of us who garden at home, the NutriLight system seems like a great way to get a few more days out of those veggies we had to harvest but weren’t quite ready to eat yet.

And the Mitti Cool Refrigerator may be a step back to the past but it is an effective way to keep foods cold without all the bells and whistles (or costs) of modern refrigeration.

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