Rethinking Refrigeration

We’ve previously talked about food storage outside of refrigeration, but what about the idea of refrigeration itself? The technology itself has seen little advancement since the invention of Freon in 1928. For those not in the know:

Freon represents several different chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, which are used in commerce and industry. The CFCs are a group of aliphatic organic compounds containing the elements carbon and fluorine, and, in many cases, other halogens (especially chlorine) and hydrogen. Freons are colorless, odorless, nonflammable, noncorrosive gases or liquids […] CFCs, or Freon, are now infamous for greatly adding to the depletion of the earth’s ozone shield.

A couple years ago, Electrolux Design Labs ran a contest for household appliance redesigns. Two of the finalists caught my eye and gave my inner hippie hope for the future, specifically, the Future Gel and Honeycomb models (not their official names, just how I will be referring to them in this article for the sake of being consistent and concise).

The Future Gel (or Bio Robot Refrigerator) prototype, designed by the Russian Yuriy Dmitriev, purportedly:

Utilizes a special gel-like substance that suspends and cools food once inserted.

The Bio Robot Refrigerator mounts on a wall—Dmitriev points out it can be mounted horizontally, vertically or even on the ceiling. The fridge does not have a motor or other traditional technology like most refrigerators—the gel does all the work—so, 90% of the appliance is actual usable space. To use the fridge you basically shove food into it’s biopolymer gel—which has no odor and is not sticky—and it is suspended and cooled until you need it again.

I’m not quite sure how far we are from biopolymer gel, but the idea is fascinating nonetheless.

The other design that intrigued me was Ben de la Roche’s. De la Roche was, at the time of this contest at least, an industrial design student at New Zealand’s Massey University. His design uses the honeycomb pattern found in nature to make a modularized, door-less, open-front refrigeration system which saves energy by only cooling the food that’s put in it. This is accomplished through the modular interface. A traditional fridge is essentially a box that gets really cold, so if you want things (food, flowers, a human head if you’re BBC’s Sherlock, etc) to be cold, you stick it in the box. De la Roche’s design allows the cooling mechanism to be much more targeted so that the entire infrastructure isn’t being cooled unnecessarily when all that’s in it is a case of beer and collegiate hunger. This design implements thermoacoustic refrigeration using nitrogen instead of CFCs.

Prototypes or not, I’m excited about what this kind of thinking can mean for the future. Functional, aesthetically pleasing designs that make our world cleaner and safer is what I’m all about. That and food—daylight savings time coupled with all this fridge talk has thrown me for a loop. I’m hungry.

Fridge Free Food: Kick Your Obsessive Storage Habit & Keep Food Fresher Too
Zero-Energy Bio Refrigerator Cools Your Food With Future Gel
Student Invents Doorless Refrigerator That Saves Energy and Reduces Food Spoilage

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