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Micro Cold Storage Diagram

Prakhar Mehrotra's Micro Cold Storage Project Wins the $25,000 Dow Resnick SISCA Prize


Fall 2012

Congratulations to Prakhar Mehrotra for winning the Dow Resnick Sustainability Innovation Student Challenge Award (SISCA) at Caltech. His team won the $25,000 grand prize for an elegantly simple project called “Micro Cold Storage” Their idea is to manufacture a portable cold storage unit scaled to fit in a farmer’s truck that is powered by solar panels. The project’s implications are far reaching for rural farmers in India, to clinics in Africa, to farmer’s markets in Pasadena.

Mehrotra’s project was originally conceived of as a solution for Indian farmers, who lose profit because of lack of cold storage. It is typically very costly for a farmer to bring temperature sensitive crops to market because they need refrigerated transport, which is handled mostly by middlemen. Additionally about 30% of all foods in India are wasted every year due to lack of cold storage. Prakhar witnessed the stresses of farm life on his grandfather, which motivated him to work on this project in his spare time along with several other colleagues. Their work led them to found India-based Ecozen Solutions.

The Ecozen team developed a portable, high efficiency cold storage unit with photovoltaic panels that could be fitted onto a vehicle the size of a U-Haul truck. The PV panels power the cooling system, which is based on an efficient vapor compression cycle. They have developed thermal storage technology to back up the system and a special control system to keep the stored items fresh while reducing the cooling load by 15%.

Prakhar, a PhD student in aeronautics, said, “We are honored to have won the Dow Resnick Sustainability Award. Winning SISCA has further strengthened our vigor towards making a significant impact on the food industry through our technological innovation.” The SISCA prize money will be used to develop a prototype and the team could have a proof of concept ready to be tested at Indian farms within about five months. In addition to rural farm applications, the units could be used to transport vaccines in developing countries. Locally, Prakhar said several vendors at the Pasadena farmer’s market were ready to buy units immediately.

The SISCA prize, which rewards innovative thinking in social and environmental responsibility was cosponsored by Dow and the Resnick Sustainability Institute. The competition was open to Caltech graduate students and teams of people with at least one Caltech graduate student team member. Applicants had to submit a description of their project and a letter of support to enter. The Prize was awarded at a reception held in the newly renovated Jorgensen Laboratory building on November 7th, 2012. All applicant finalists participated in a poster session showcasing their entries.

Awards were presented for first and second place. Second place went to Kangwoo Cho for his project titled, “Photovoltaic-powered Wastewater Electrolysis Cell (PWEC) for Water Reuse and Solar Energy Harvesting.” Kangwoo is a doctoral student in environmental science and engineering. His recent research work with Professor Michael Hoffmann and the Hoffmann Group received the grand prize at the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The Resnick Sustainability Institute looks forward to sponsoring the prize again next year. If your research or project has the potential to make a contribution to the world of sustainability start thinking about the SISCA today!

–The Resnick Sustainability Institute