The refrigerator present in most Western kitchens today wasn’t invented all that long ago. Carl Van Linde developed the technology in the 1870′s, but his ammonia-based fridges still required separate motors, and inhaling the toxic gases within led to a few deaths—not ideal. The first freestanding, commercially available fridge hit shelves (well, floors) in 1913, and wasn’t really perfected until the 1930′s. Iceboxes and burying perishables in the ground preceed both models by thousands of years.
But the current model isn’t done evolving yet. Refrigerators still consume about a 6th of the energy used in the average American home. This week’s edition includes inspiring fridges that use little to no electricity, instead keeping food cold/preserved using methods from sand to biopolymers.
Jihyun Ryou’s ancient-tech fridge via @Fast Co.Design
This post was what really sparked our search for more unconventional (or really conventional, depending on your timeframe) fridges. Ryou developed a series of fairly simple, optimal ways of storing fruits and vegetables outside of the fridge. Our favorite is the “Symbiosis of Apple + Potato” concept, where the ethylene gas emitted from apples keeps potatoes from sprouting when they are stored on the same shelf. In “Verticality of Root Vegetables” sand keeps veggies upright while preserving the proper level of humidity.
Mohammed Bah Abba’s Pot within a Pot
We love a refrigerator with a positive social impact (though, admittedly, this is the first we’ve seen.) Mohammaed Bah Abba’s ingenious Pot within a Pot cools its contents via a simple law of thermodynamics. The larger pot houses a smaller pot, and the two are separated by a layer of wet sand. An instant drop in temperature occurs when the moisture from the sand reaches the dry air and evaporates, preserving food for longer periods of time. Abba’s design is not only carbon-neutral, it also frees up girls to head to school instead of helping out at market stands everyday.
The Bio Robot
Ok, maybe this fridge isn’t natural (is pulling your groceries out of an odorless, non-sticky gel natural?) but it’s still really cool. Yuriy Dmitriev made finalist in the 2010 Electrolux Design lab with his Bio Robot refrigerator concept, which suspends perishables in a biopolymer gel that keeps them cold without using electricity. The gel stays cool through luminescence, where heat is radiated away as light.
If Abba’s Pot Within a Pot married a Zippo, we’re pretty sure this is what would happen. The metal and clay portable Outback Cooler, dreamed up by Jo Szczepanska, keeps food cold for up to 20 days, and it functions much the same as Abba’s design. Wet sand keeps the internal “pot” cool in the harsh conditions of the Australian desert, or in the harsh conditions of a 20-hour road trip to NYC. For more sketches and cross sections, check out Szczepanska’s website.
It’s a lesser known part of Einstein’s legacy, but the physicist made a very important contribution to the field of low-impact refrigerators. From 1926 to 1933, Einstein and partner Leo Szilard developed 7 models of his fridge, which cooled contents via pressurized gases (in contrast to the fridge of today, which compresses manmade greenhouse gases known as freons). The unit contained no moving parts and required no electricity, only a modest heat source. In the late aughties, Einstein’s fridge idea was revived by an Electrical Engineer at Oxford, Malcolm McCulloch, who figured solar power could be the major heat source, making the unit almost entirely carbon neutral and a lot more efficient.