Researchers Are Developing Technology to Provide Cooling Systems to Areas Lacking Access to Electricity

Sustainability is a term that is widely used in today’s modern society. Though it is interpreted differently depending on the individual, government, or organization, its widely agreed-upon definition includes longevity and prosperity, focusing on three pillars: social, economic, and environment.

Researchers Are Developing Technology to Provide Cooling Systems to Areas Lacking Access to Electricity
Image: courtesy King Abdullah University of Science and Technology

This overlap means that many inventions or regulations typically impact all three pillars. For example, renewable energy has fewer emissions, making it better for the environment, can be implemented in places where electricity is lacking, thus helping the social pillar, and can help to aid in economic prosperity as more jobs will be created.

To add to this, the growth of technology now allows individuals a glimpse into the reality of life in other parts of the world, prompting many organizations to focus on the social aspect of sustainability to increase the quality of life and ensure that others have access to necessities.

As a result, numerous innovative designs have yielded positive outcomes to help support all three sustainable pillars. From making renewable energy more accessible to providing potable water.

Researchers at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia are tinkering with their own invention that can aid in the social aspect of sustainability, especially in exceptionally hot and lower socio-economic areas.

Their concept is to take a naturally occurring process and utilize it to provide a cooling system that can run at a low cost and is effective.

Salt, Water, and the Sun

Submerging salt in water creates a chemical reaction that causes the salt to dissolve, absorb the water's heat, and effectively cool the surrounding liquid as a result. By scaling this reaction up to a usable size, the researchers believe they could provide a cooling system to many individuals who lack access to an energy grid.

Dr. Peng Wang, an environmental science and engineering professor at the university and the lead on this project, believes that this concept could help lengthen food longevity.

"In underdeveloped regions, this can help them store food for a couple more days," he said.

The process will happen in two segments. The first will be dissolving the salt in the water to create the cooling effect, and the second will be using the sun's energy to re-heat the water and cause it to evaporate, leaving the salt crystals that can be reused.

The concept has thus far shown promise on a small laboratory scale. Reports state that the lab tests have confirmed the technology can keep the temperature at a cool 59 degrees for up to 15 hours, long enough to store food.

The next step for the plan is to build a larger demonstration unit to better understand the idea's practicality. Dr. Wang seems optimistic about this and even believes that they can use the system in other ways, such as storing medicine or cooling a waterbed.

He later explains that while the sun's heat is being harvested to dry the salt water, the solar radiation is captured simultaneously. This means that energy will supplement the cooling system when the salt is still being dried up and therefore not available for use.

"You can use today's solar energy to provide cooling power in a week," he says.

Though some preventive measures, such as with ammonium nitrate, need to be taken and further refined, Dr. Wang believes that this project's overall outcome could positively yield success.

"Our system is used at a small scale, and your expectation should not be high," he says, "but it's passive, driven by renewable energy, it has a very small carbon footprint, and it gives you flexibility."

Access to Electricity

According to the International Energy Agency, access to electricity on a global scale has seen significant progress since the turn of the century. For example, on the continent of Asia, over 1 billion individuals have gained access to electricity since 2000.

That said, there is still much work, notably in Central African countries, such as South Sudan and the Central African Republic, where only about 3% of the population has access to the grid.

On the flip side, countries such as Senegal, Rwanda, Ghana, Kenya, and Ethiopia have led the charge to provide access throughout the continent. For instance, in six short years, Kenya was able to go from 20% of their population having access to a whopping 85%.

Despite this progress, as of 2019, 10% of the world's population, or roughly 800 million people, still are without electricity. In many cases, a lack of access to electricity equates to a lack of clean water, fresh food, and access to medicine. This can yield an array of problems and greatly diminish the quality of life for many individuals.

Inventing a way to provide access to energy is a goal of many organizations and researchers around the globe. Typically, this has formed into renewable energy access and utilizing nature's resources to provide much-needed power.

Ideas such as Dr. Wang and his teams' have the potential to aid in the fight for global energy. Likewise, its low emissions and relatively simple concept provide it with even more potential for implementation.

Lastly, even though their invention is only in the beginning stages, it has thus far shown immense promise. Its continued refinement and success are likely on the horizon, meaning that there will potentially soon be another ingenious invention on the path to a sustainable future.


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