UC, local industry partner for game-changer in solar-powered refrigerator

A virtual trade mission taken by University of Cincinnati MBA students and local industries has turned into a very real product that could put a dent in food shortages across India.

Next year, new solar-powered refrigerator products will be tested on an aloe farm in the developing country early next year. If successful, the SolerCool could be a reality for Indian farmers, just in time for summer.

The product is a self-contained cooling unit that relies on the sun for power. It's a box that measures 10' x 7' x 11', and is topped by solar panels. SolerCool was developed through a collaboration between former and current UC students and local industries, including SimpliCool Technologies International LLC in Waynesville.

The idea for the technology came after the MBA students and SimpliCool attended a "virtual trade mission" to India in July 2011. The mission was part of a Business Law for Managers class taught by Ilse Hawkins, an attorney and adjunct professor of accounting at UC. The mission virtually brought Cincinnati and Indian businesses together to find ways of partnering to better preserve Indian produce.

Today, 30 to 40 percent of produce in India is lost to spoilage because of lack of refrigeration options, Hawkins says. India, with 1.2 million people, faces chronic food shortages.

"While we were doing the mission, we had this tiny, insulated structure that kept audio visual materials at proper temperature," Hawkins says. "We thought, 'Why couldn't we create a structure powered with solar panels like that that could be put anywhere on a farm?'"

Shortly after that meeting, Hawkins took a group to India where the idea was further flushed out. Eventually, a collaborative effort led to the creation of the SolerCool unit.

MBA students worked on a business plan, helped with the initial feasibility calculations and networked with Indian businesses who might contribute to the product.

Mohsen Rezayat, chief solutions architect at Siemens UGS PLM Software and adjunct professor in UC’s College of Engineering and Applied Science, primarily worked on the engineering of the solar panels in the SimpliCool-manufactured cooling cube.

UC does not own the product, and therefore won't be profiting from its sales, Hawkins says. However, SimpliCool has vowed to contribute to UC's College of Business to fund further travel to India if the idea is successful, she says.

By Feoshia H. Davis
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