Blog on new research project Cooling for Life Sub-Saharan Africa

This week my co-investigator and I are launching new blog for our research project on solar driven cold stores employing adsorption cooling technology in Rwanda. Historically, the low penetration of electricity has limited economic development because food chains and small-scale subsistence entrepreneurs did not have access to reliable cool chains. Having researched the provision of electricity in Ghana as part of the Volta River Project, it is clear that access to electricity, which is much lower in sub-Saharan African countries than elsewhere (under 30% of population have access), is a key constraint.

So I was really pleased to start talking to one of my colleagues at Aston from engineering, Dr Ahmed Rezk, who wanted to start a project with colleagues in Rwanda on providing off-grid reliable refrigeration for the agro-processing industry. Solar power is obviously plentiful in Africa, but photovoltaic panels actually become less efficient with greater heat. The technology Ahmed proposes is based largely on solar heat (for us less technically versed, think heat pumps running supermarket fridges) which is can be reliably and efficiently exploited in tropical countries.

And in another analogy to the history of development, technologies such as these are not as developed because the creators of technology and products are in countries where the climate makes this a less efficient solutions, while the potential consumers of such technology are in countries with limited technological and manufacturing capacity.

So the other side of our project, which I lead, will look at how we can design business models that will make this new technology user-friendly and affordable to consumers in Africa. Agro-processing is an important area for African countries with a large agricultural sector, for two reasons: it allows exporting and upgrading to other types of products (juices, wines etc.) and it creates more resilient food chains with less spoilage, hence more and better food available locally.

The unparalleled success of mobile phones, micro-finance and bottom of pyramid approaches to expand across sub-Saharan Africa demonstrates that the right business models can lead to significant changes in terms of the products and infrastructure available to producers and consumers. We will blog about our aims and progress at Cooling for life. Any comments or suggestion are very welcome!

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