Kenya: design and user research of room-sized coolers

Emmanuel Amwoka of University of Nairobi in the interior of a room-sized evaporative cooling chamber.
Emmanuel Amwoka of University of Nairobi in the interior of a room-sized evaporative cooling chamber.

Storing vegetables after harvest without cooling them can lead to spoilage and reduced income for farmers. Most techniques for cooling and storing vegetables rely on electricity, which may be unaffordable or not available for many smallholder farmers, especially those living in remote areas on less than $3 a day.

Evaporative Cooling Chambers

Evaporative Cooling Chambers (ECCs) can improve vegetable storage shelf life by providing a stable storage environment with low temperature and high humidity, which reduces the rate of respiration, 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. ECCs are particularly suited for hot, dry regions and countries with some access to water and limited or unaffordable access to electricity, such as rural Kenya.

Collaboration with the University of Nairobi

The research is being conducted in partnership with researchers from the University of Nairobi’s Plant Science and Crop Protection and Environmental and Biosystems Engineering departments who have extensive experience working with low-income rural communities on issues related to horticulture and improving livelihoods.

The collaborative team from MIT and the University of Nairobi is building and testing innovative designs for room-sized evaporative cooling chambers in rural Kenya for farming cooperatives whose primary product is mangoes. The computational heat and mass transfer models developed for clay pot cooler evaporative cooling devices will be used to predict the behavior of larger-scale evaporative cooling chambers. The goal of this project is to optimize the design for performance, practical construction, and user preferences to meet the needs of smallholder farmers in low-income, rural communities in Kenya and better understand user behavior and pathways to adoption.

Shipping Container Based Design

The team has developed a design based on retrofitting a shipping container that will provide a lower-cost alternative to refrigerated cold rooms and a better-performing alternative to charcoal evaporative cooling chambers and non-climate-controlled environments. 

Designs for forced-air evaporative cooling chamber based on a shipping container


Funded in part by a Seed Grant from the MIT Abdul Laftil Jameel Water and Food Systems Lab (J-WAFS).


Dan Frey, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, MIT D-Lab Faculty Director for Research

Leon Glicksman, Professor of Building Technology and Mechanical Engineering

Eric Verploegen, MIT D-Lab Research Engineer

More information

MIT D-Lab blog post: Evaporative cooler construction with University of Nairobi


Eric Verploegen, MIT D-Lab Research Engineer