Unheard of supercooled refrigerators key to food crises

Written by Staff Writer

(CNN) — Imagine when you don’t have electricity. You need more food and it needs to last longer, but the solar-powered refrigerators would have to be smaller and cheaper than those found in supermarkets.

Climate change is worsening food shortages in Nigeria, with malnutrition already affecting more than 8 million people in a country of over 180 million.

A group of Nigerian entrepreneurs and scientists, who call themselves the ColdHubs, are trying to solve this problem by pioneering a new approach to cold storage. In many homes, generators are the only reliable source of electricity. Without electricity, the best alternatives to keep foods warm are firewood or kerosene lamps.

The group of cold storage entrepreneurs, along with several British scientists, has created the last truly feasible method to freeze food. The system combines their ideal way of creating high-temperature, low-cost storage with UK technology experts.

Using hypothermia, machines and condensation to generate a frozen object in a water-filled cylinder, the inventors of the new technology use tiny amounts of water or frozen particles to store food, as opposed to the huge amounts of water that conventional cold storage requires.

“Our system involves freezing various food items at a very slow temperature, which usually takes more than seven days to complete the freezing process,” said Abdulsalam Kuye, a Nigerian biochemist, who helped develop the technology.

Hypothermia is a very slow, freezing process that’s sensitive to temperature fluctuations and needs powerful freezer systems to replicate this effect in space-less environments.

“The process makes use of a certain enzyme involved in mold growth,” Kuye said. “As the food nears the death stage, the process stops and the water-filled cylinder cools to zero. This process is not used to freeze liquids, but to freeze food.”

Kuye is quick to point out that the refrigerators are not perfect. “The technology doesn’t work everywhere, for instance in the desert. It does work well in coastal areas, such as Lagos, and even better in the northern part of the country.”

The innovative technology could boost the economy of these desperately poor regions. In fact, said the ColdHubs’ founder, it can potentially feed many more people than the existing food shortage.

Currently, 6 million people use the ColdHubs machines each year, producing up to 12 metric tons of food a day. But the system can be used to freeze about 20 metric tons of food per day. The group estimates that the system can “manage” 20 million metric tons of food per year.

Despite its great benefits, the technology is currently only used to support a very small number of families in cities and villages. The ColdHubs plans to boost this usage by introducing devices to the rural market.

The ColdHubs organization has already raised more than £2 million ($3.2 million) with the help of the government of Britain. This funds has been used to start development of the first prototype of a decentralized cold storage system in Nigeria.

Kuye believes this will significantly change the lives of the people who need foodstuffs the most. “I believe that if this system is made available to many people, there is an opportunity to feed 10 million people,” he said.

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