DENVER — Engineers Without Borders USA (EWB-USA) recently announced a challenge competition to develop innovative refrigeration technologies for off-grid households in the developing world.

“As many as 2 billion people live without refrigeration,” said Andrew Dowdy one of EWB-USA’s engineers instrumental in developing the challenge. “It’s more than just a convenience, refrigeration can be an essential service, improving the quality of life for millions of people in a number of important ways. However, it has largely been an unaffordable option, especially for those who live without access to grid power.”

The Challenge will provide up to 10 grants between $25,000 to $50,000 for the development of proof-of-concept prototypes for low-cost refrigerators and community icemakers. EWB-USA seeks to address the refrigeration gap and push engineers and inventors in their thinking around refrigeration, especially the assumption that off-grid refrigeration will look a lot like on-grid.

“We need to re-think off-grid refrigeration in two important ways,” said Dowdy. “First, rather than continuing to try to adapt existing refrigerators to the off-grid market, we need to examine other refrigeration technologies to identify ones that may be more appropriate for off-grid customers and conditions. In addition, we need to rethink our definition of refrigeration to include not only household units but also other solutions such as community-sized ice-makers.”

While individual household refrigerators may remain a long-term aspirational goal, EWB-USA wants to fill the refrigeration gap for the hundreds of millions of people who are projected to acquire electricity via “mini-grids” or solar home systems.

“Our mission is to lift people out of poverty and reliable, affordable and sustainable refrigeration is a huge step in the right direction,” said Cathy Leslie, executive director of EWB-USA. “Successful solutions to our refrigeration challenge will be a game-changer for millions of people. We are extremely proud to launch the Chill Challenge, catalyze new thinking, and see new developments. I’m excited.”

EWB-USA is proud to have ASHRAE as a Chill Challenge partner, contributing to its expert panel of technical reviewers and providing outreach for the Challenge.

“ASHRAE looks forward to working with EWB-USA in further acknowledging our commitment to advance refrigeration technologies, strategies, and practices that will directly impact developing nations," said Darryl K. Boyce, P.E., current president of ASHRAE. “We are optimistic about the opportunity to impact growth and positive change through our common goal of identifying off-grid refrigeration solutions that support the well-being of people around the world.”

EWB is soliciting applications for the development of prototypes of either a small commercial refrigerator or a community icemaker affordable for off-grid communities. The competition will be open to companies, university teams, or individual inventors worldwide.

“Off-grid refrigeration technology is growing but has yet to enter the marketplace in developing nations in a significant way,” says Rajan Rajendran, chair of ASHRAE’s Refrigeration Committee. “We hope that the outcomes and lessons learned from this competition will inspire greater participation and innovation that will ultimately provide communities with expanded access to affordable refrigeration technology that is compatible with off-grid energy sources.”

More information on the Challenge can be found at

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