Evaporative Cooling for Vegetable Preservation

Two examples of an evaporative cooling device for vegetable storage and preservation. Left: clay pot cooler. Right a brick evaporative cooling chamber.
Two examples of an evaporative cooling device for vegetable storage and preservation. Left: clay pot cooler. Right a brick evaporative cooling chamber.

Evaporative cooling devices have promise for helping small-scale farmers, market vendors, and families to store and preserve vegetables.


Practical and affordable storage technologies have the potential to prevent food loss, strengthen the perishable food supply chain, and create opportunities for additional income generation. Evaporative cooling devices are simple and inexpensive ways to keep vegetables fresh without the use of electricity. These devices function according to a basic principle called “evaporative cooling,” where the evaporation of water from a surface removes heat, creating a cooling effect. 

Evaporative cooling can improve vegetable storage shelf life by providing a stable storage environment with low temperature and high humidity, which reduces the rate of respiration and water loss and spoilage in most vegetables. The improved storage environment can have positive impacts including reduced post-harvest losses, less time spent traveling to the market, monetary savings, and increased availability of vegetables for consumption.

Call to action: Five areas where work is needed

Given the benefits that evaporative cooling devices can provide for post-harvest vegetable storage, why are they not more widely used? What can be done to increase the effective production, dissemination, and usage of this technology? Following is a list of the five key areas identified by MIT D-Lab that need further development in order to optimize these technologies and dissemination approaches, and to build further evidence for the impact that could result:

  1. Performance and Design Research
  2. Suitability Scoping
  3. Scalable Dissemination
  4. User Behavior and Impact
  5. Community of practice

Resources and Reports

An illustrated guide covering the fundamentals of how evaporative cooling works, the importance of proper fruit and vegetable storage, and best practices for assembling and using clay pot coolers. The guide is available in French and English and can be printed to form a booklet.  
MIT D-Lab and the World Vegetable Center published a research report evaluating technologies designed to improve the storage of vegetables using evaporative cooling. The methodologies used included interviews with users of the cooling and storage technologies, interviews with stakeholders along the vegetable supply chain, and sensors to monitor product performance parameters.
Evaporative Cooling for Improved Vegetable and Fruit Storage in Rwanda and Burkina Faso
MIT D-Lab and Agribusiness Associates conducted a study of evaporative cooling devices in Rwanda and Burkina Faso, as part of a Feed the Future program run by UC Davis' Horticulture Innovation Lab. The results of this research provided insights into the impact of device design and weather conditions on performance, as well as providing recommendations for dissemination of evaporative cooling devices. 
Provides guidance on best practices for determining the suitability of evaporative cooling technologies for a specific context, construction and usage of clay pot coolers and evaporative cooling chambers, and dissemination approaches.

Evaporative Cooling Decision-Making Tool
An interactive Microsoft Excel-based decision-making tool to help determine if evaporative cooling devices are suitable for a specific context, and to guide the calculation of potential financial savings. 


Eric Verploegen, MIT D-Lab Research Engineer