Evaptainer

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Evaptainer: Mobile refrigeration units for the developing world that run on sun and water

MoroccoBoston, United States
Year Founded:
2013
Organization type: 
hybrid
Project Stage:
Start-Up
Budget: 
$10,000 - $50,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Food spoilage is a real problem in developing countries. Evaptainers solves this problem with an innovative mobile refrigeration unit that runs on just sunlight and water. Our units are low-cost, modular and scalable, and could potentially help pull millions out of poverty.

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

What if we could feed the world with food we ALREADY grow?
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

In Western and Northern Africa, farmers face difficulties with cooling and refrigeration during various stages of the agricultural supply chain. Specifically, cooling is too expensive or completely inaccessible because of lack of electricity. These difficulties result in disproportionate produce spoilage: UN FAO estimates spoilage rates as high as 45% for fruits and vegetables with a total loss of $4 billion dollars in Africa annually.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

We've invented low-cost, mobile refrigeration units that run on just sun and water. They utilize the phenomenon of evaporative cooling, rather than more energy-intensive vapor compression refrigeration, making them ideal for off-grid rural areas. Evaporative cooling has been employed successfully for centuries in products like the Zeer Pot or Coolgardie safe. Proven to be effective for agricultural use, these products have been known to triple or quadruple the shelf-life of most produce. Our company has taken these inventions and upgraded them for modern and commercial use. Using state-of-the art materials and improved design, we’ve created more effective, more durable, easier to use, mass-producible units.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

From the moment a fruit or vegetable is harvested, it begins to lose value. Sun exposure causes the outer skin to burn or blemish, decreasing market value. Heat drains away moisture, shriveling away the body of the produce. Time ripens the meat of the produce, making it soft and mealy. In Morocco, this happens everywhere; spoilage is a real problem and it erodes at profits for farmers and coops. For example, COPAG, one of our partners in Morocco, faces spoilage rates of 20-30% for most of its goods. This means they lose 60 dirhams for every 100 kilo crate of tomatoes they ship. Our Evaptainers can reduce the spoilage rate by at least 10%, meaning our devices would pay themselves off in just 33 days.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

We've generated an incredible amount of interest and traction from our idea so far. We are currently MassChallenge finalists and will be participating in their accelerator program through the end of October. In the next few months, we are working to finalize the design of our Evaptainer and prepare a test batch of 30-50 units. We are also in the process of patenting the device and raising capital from social impact angels and small business grants. Immediately after MassChallenge, we plan to launch our pilot in Morocco and work with our partner COPAG to begin testing the units in the field. Pending the success of the pilot, we will likely tweak the design one final time and sign a contract with a larger manufacturer, to begin full operation in Q2 of 2015.

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

Because our units are designed to be mass producible and easily scalable, our reach should extend far beyond Morocco. Having worked with several agricultural NGOs, I already have contacts at organizations such as ACDI/VOCA, Mercy Corps, Catholic Relief Services and NCBA/CLUSA - many of whom are working on agricultural value chain improvement projects. We plan to expand to areas such as Ethiopia, Tunisia and Namibia, initially working with NGO's, Government Agencies and cooperatives, but eventually reaching down to individual small holder farmers.
Sustainability

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Currently, the project is supported from prize winnings and personal finances. We continue to seek grants as we grow, but eventually plan to operate as a social enterprise dependent on revenue only. This is feasible based on our financial projections: once our units are in mass production, they should cost no more than $25 to produce and ship, and our market surveys indicate that cooperatives would be willing to pay between $80-$120 per unit.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Promethean Power is similar to us, but focus more on cold storage than on cooling during transportation. Chotukool also addresses some problems of spoilage, but focuses more on the consumer market than producers and farmers (their units are not big enough for producers). Zeer pots and ZECCs target the same markets but have not managed to reached scale effectively. Various social venture startups seek to convert spoiled food matter into biodiesel. Though this idea can be effective in some markets (depending on the price of energy) it is not appropriate for all.
Team

Founding Story

Last September, one my professors asked our class to think of “a solution that could benefit at least 1 billion people”. Given the huge number, I knew it would somehow involve smallholder farmers. I started focusing on the Zeer Pot Fridge: an ultra-cheap ceramic cooler that could extend the shelf life of tomatoes from 2 days to 20 days; okra from 4 days to 17 days; carrots from 4 days to 20 days and so forth. I asked myself why this technology had never been used for transporting goods considering the difficulties with cold chains in developing countries. The simple reason was that Zeer Pots were too heavy, too small and too fragile. It was then that I began thinking about whether a mobile evaporative cooler was the solution.

Team

Quang Truong has worked on development projects that span from Haiti to Liberia to India to Vietnam, and possesses expertise in M&E, agricultural supply chains and agribusiness. Ekso Heilner is the team’s Lead Designer with experience in industrial design and product design. Ismail Badraoui is a native of Morocco and has worked for the Ministry of Agriculture. He helped draft the Green Morocco Plan and has connections with farmer's cooperatives.
About You
About You
First Name

Quang

Last Name

Truong

About Your Project
Organization Name
How long has your organization been operating?

Please select

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Project
Organization Country

, Boston

Country where this project is creating social impact
What awards or honors has the project received?
Funding: How is your project financial supported?

Friends and family.

Supplemental
Sector

Waste and Packaging, Smallholder Farmers.

Audience: Who have you identified as your customer/recipient groups and do these groups value your solution for different reasons? How do you engage different customer/recipient groups to deliver your solution?

Rather than sell directly to farmers, who may not have the financing available for purchasing these units, we plan to primarily target farmer’s cooperatives and producer’s organizations in Morocco with whom we already have exclusive relationships. The value proposition for these customers is clear: decreased spoilage means higher income as more goods go to market; each unit purchased can pay itself off in 100 days or less. Our market surveys show a high level of interest from coops as well.

Scaling the solution: How would the prize money and publicity help you to achieve your objectives over the next two years?

The prize money and publicity would allow us to begin exploring markets outside of Morocco, such as Tunisia, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Kenya and Namibia. Because our model relies on working with existing business and cooperatives, publicity and validation are crucial for us to build relationships.

Experience: Please provide examples of any previous entrepreneurial initiatives you have pioneered

I love building things. When I was a kid, I did it with LEGOs; now it is with ideas. After the earthquake in Haiti, I mobilized friends and coworkers to purchase LED flashlights for IDP camps. In Liberia, I built a loan tracking MIS for a women's micro finance group that helped them grow. In Vietnam, I planned and helped create a fully operational, 8000lb per year mushroom production facility for the Da Nang Red Cross.

Are you are eligible to attend the Accelerator event in Cambridge and subsequent events in London, UK in January, 2015?

yes

Will you require a visa to enter the UK?

Are you are a current Unilever employee?

Comments

Anuradha kumari's picture

Nice way to avoid food spoiling, Good one sara.

Great idea with the potential to make a real impact in Morocco and elsewhere. Product looks tough and relatively easy to manufacture. Business models and partnerships are strong for a start-up entry.
While zeer pots have their shortcomings, they can be manufactured at low cost in the areas where they are needed- is this true of this product? I'd need to know more if this innovation is to be really sustainable.

Hi Chris, great question!

You’re right that Zeers are quite low-cost to manufacture, but actually quite expensive if you break them down in terms of “cost per cooling capacity”. A large Zeer costs about $4 USD but has a storage capacity of only 15L ($.27/L). On top of this are additional costs such as shipping (Zeers are heavy and must be moved carefully) and hidden costs such as replacement (Zeers are fragile and can easily break).

Evaptainers have a capacity of 150L, would cost $25-35 USD to produce and another $15 USD per unit to ship ($.33/L). This makes them cost competitive with Zeers on a size basis, and actually much cheaper than immobile cooling structures like Charcoal Sheds and Zero Energy Cold Chambers (~$.6/L). We’re looking at producers in Morocco and Nigeria, so they can be manufactured in the areas they are needed. However, unlike Mobah Rural Horizons’ strategy of contracting local handymen for production, we would likely adopt a more centralized manufacturing approach.

Nice project which runs on both water and sun. Good one,

Rajeev Kumar's picture

Good project, Thanks for the post.

Jack Smith's picture

Fantastic idea Quang, keep posting similar. Thanks for the share.!

J Thomson's picture

This project sounds good.

Michel Lawrence's picture

Very interesting project. Thanks for share.

Danial Bell's picture

Quang is this good to do in polar areas. ?

Panther Anat's picture

This could help lot of poor hands in the society. Great post.

Alexter Cook's picture

Very unique content, good one quang.

Kareena D's picture

Sound like this project will be there for years. Good job guys.

Flosy D's picture
Flosy D /

This is a nice idea to prevent food spoiling . Keep posting similar.