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TED2007

Adam Grosser: A mobile fridge for vaccines

February 2, 2007

Adam Grosser talks about a project to build a refrigerator that works without electricity -- to bring the vital tool to villages and clinics worldwide. Tweaking some old technology, he's come up with a system that works.

Adam Grosser - Venture capitalist
Adam Grosser is a general partner at Foundation Capital -- and a refrigeration visionary. Full bio

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Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
This is a work in process,
00:13
based on some comments that were made
00:16
at TED two years ago
00:19
about the need for the storage of vaccine.
00:20
(Music)
00:24
(Video) Narrator: On this planet,
00:25
1.6 billion people
00:26
don't have access to electricity,
00:28
refrigeration
00:30
or stored fuels.
00:34
This is a problem.
00:38
It impacts:
00:40
the spread of disease,
00:44
the storage of food and medicine
00:46
and the quality of life.
00:49
So here's the plan: inexpensive refrigeration that doesn't use electricity,
00:52
propane, gas, kerosene or consumables.
00:55
Time for some thermodynamics.
01:00
And the story of the Intermittent Absorption Refrigerator.
01:02
Adam Grosser: So 29 years ago, I had this thermo teacher
01:05
who talked about absorption and refrigeration.
01:09
It's one of those things that stuck in my head.
01:10
It was a lot like the Stirling engine:
01:12
it was cool, but you didn't know what to do with it.
01:13
And it was invented in 1858, by this guy Ferdinand Carre,
01:16
but he couldn't actually build anything with it
01:19
because of the tools of the time.
01:20
This crazy Canadian named Powel Crosley
01:23
commercialized this thing called the IcyBall in 1928,
01:27
and it was a really neat idea,
01:29
and I'll get to why it didn't work,
01:31
but here's how it works.
01:32
There's two spheres and they're separated in distance.
01:34
One has a working fluid, water and ammonia,
01:36
and the other is a condenser.
01:39
You heat up one side, the hot side.
01:40
The ammonia evaporates
01:42
and it re-condenses in the other side.
01:43
You let it cool to room temperature,
01:46
and then, as the ammonia re-evaporates and combines with the water
01:47
back on the erstwhile hot side,
01:51
it creates a powerful cooling effect.
01:52
So, it was a great idea that didn't work at all: it blew up.
01:55
Because using ammonia you get hugely high pressures
01:58
if you heated them wrong.
02:03
It topped 400 psi. The ammonia was toxic. It sprayed everywhere.
02:04
But it was kind of an interesting thought.
02:08
So, the great thing about 2006 is
02:10
there's a lot of really great computational work you can do.
02:13
So, we got the whole thermodynamics department
02:16
at Stanford involved --
02:19
a lot of computational fluid dynamics.
02:20
We proved that most of the ammonia refrigeration tables are wrong.
02:22
We found some non-toxic refrigerants
02:25
that worked at very low vapor pressures.
02:28
Brought in a team from the U.K. --
02:29
there's a lot of great refrigeration people,
02:32
it turned out, in the U.K. --
02:33
and built a test rig, and proved that, in fact,
02:35
we could make a low pressure, non-toxic refrigerator.
02:37
So, this is the way it works.
02:41
You put it on a cooking fire.
02:42
Most people have cooking fires in the world,
02:43
whether it's camel dung or wood.
02:45
It heats up for about 30 minutes, cools for an hour.
02:47
Put it into a container
02:50
and it will refrigerate for 24 hours.
02:53
It looks like this. This is the fifth prototype. It's not quite done.
02:55
Weighs about eight pounds, and this is the way it works.
02:59
You put it into a 15-liter vessel, about three gallons,
03:02
and it'll cool it down to just above freezing --
03:06
three degrees above freezing --
03:08
for 24 hours in a 30 degree C environment. It's really cheap.
03:10
We think we can build these in high volumes for about 25 dollars,
03:13
in low volumes for about 40 dollars.
03:16
And we think we can make refrigeration
03:18
something that everybody can have.
03:21
Thank you.
03:22
(Applause)
03:23

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Adam Grosser - Venture capitalist
Adam Grosser is a general partner at Foundation Capital -- and a refrigeration visionary.

Why you should listen

Adam Grosser is a venture capitalist, working with startups that are exploring new ideas in data communications, electronics and energy management. With a background in engineering and entertainment, he enjoys looking for opportunities that map over a few of his passions -- which also include greentech.

His passion for a sustainable solution to refrigeration -- for storing food and medicines -- led to the project he describes in his 2007 TEDTalk. 

 

The original video is available on TED.com
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