Chilling ideas

Residents of Loudonville, Ohio, (population 2,623) honored native son Charles F. Kettering in June, dedicating a statue of the inventor in the town’s park.

Kettering was born in 1876 and died in 1958, so unless you’re from the greater Loudonville metropolitan area, his name probably isn’t familiar. His myriad inventions certainly are. Because of Kettering’s imagination, we have the automobile self-starter and don’t have to crank the engine by hand. Another of his 186 U.S. patents was awarded for the invention of Freon, which allowed cars and homes to be air conditioned, food to be kept cold in homes and transported safely by refrigerated truck, train and ocean container.

The same day I saw Facebook photos of the statue, a Twitter link provided me access to a debate between two economists at Northwestern University. The tenured professors were arguing over whether all the great ideas already have been invented. Although the timing of Kettering’s proliferation of ideas fit in with the argument that there was a (now-departed) golden age of invention, other discoveries lead me to the opposite side: People are still intelligent and imaginative, and there are valuable things left to create.

Exhibit A: A recent graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has invented the rapid milk chiller, which is being used to save milk from spoiling and increasing farm income in rural Indian villages — even when electricity isn’t available.

The dome-shaped machine couples to a thermal energy battery to cool milk from 95 degrees Fahrenheit to 39 degrees. When electrical power isn’t available, the rapid milk chiller can cool up to 132 gallons of milk using only the thermal energy stored in the battery. The device can keep the milk fresh for two days even without refrigeration, allowing it to be collected and sold.

With a majority of India’s milk spoiling before it is consumed or sold, it seems like a worthy invention.

Exhibit B: Lisa Kitinoja, a horticultural post-harvest scientist who also is using technology to stop food loss in Africa and India, feed the hungry and boost incomes. I don’t believe she holds any patents, but Kitinoja and her colleagues are inventive in putting together a series of commonsense, low-tech actions and items that end up as affordable solutions to hunger and poverty.

Through the Postharvest Education Foundation, she trains people in techniques as simple as putting fruits and vegetables in the shade after they have been picked or using cartons instead of sacks to reduce damage and spoilage.

The foundation also created a prototype Postharvest Training and Services Center that could be duplicated anywhere in rural India or Africa. In addition to training, the center provides low-tech refrigerated storage to keep produce from spoiling before it can reach market, concentrated solar drying machines to preserve fruits and vegetables for market or simply for later consumption, and small insulated vehicles. All these services are available to farmers for a nominal price.

The pragmatic project shows how to create a network of village cold chain operations without spending billions of dollars.

Contact Stephanie Nall at stephnalljoc@gmail.com.

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