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Coca-Cola's Bio Cooler Keeps Cans Cool—Without Electricity

Using pre-industrial cooling methods, agency Leo Burnett Colombia created a self-cooling fridge, packed it with Cokes, and delivered it to Aipir, one of Colombia's hottest towns.

After a particularly punishing northeastern winter, the onset of summer is being met with particularly boisterous glee. But the funny thing about us North Americans is that come the dead of summer when the heat waves start rolling in we’ll promptly forget about the insufferable cold of a few months prior, and we’ll start collectively grouching that it’s just too damn hot.

The thing is, even when it reaches 91,000 damn degrees, we still have a respite. Most people can just head inside and turn up the AC, or at least grab a cold drink. Or, if absolutely necessary, sticking our heads in an open freezer for a few moments is always an option. But for the people of Aipir, Colombia, which with temperatures often reaching 45 Celsius (113 Fahrenheit) is considered to be one of the country’s hottest towns, cooling down with modern conveniences isn’t really an option: most villagers have no electricity, hence, no fridges in which to cool their drinks—or pop their heads in. And something as simple as getting a cold drink or ice requires a day-long journey.

Fernando Hernández, ECD of Leo Burnett Colombia, says that's why Coca-Cola decided to bring a little bit of refreshment to this parched, sun-baked town. Since trucking down a fridge full of frosty soda wasn’t an option in such an off-the grid locale, the agency devised the Bio Cooler, a portable four-legged fridge topped with plants that uses ancient cooling science to cool drinks without electricity.

"The creative process started with the founding of the evaporation system principle by our industrial design team, a principle used by ancient cultures taking plants and wet dirt to keep cool food in ceramic chambers," says Hernández. "Then, we thought about the need in third-world countries as ours of small town or villages far away from cities where people don't have basic needs as water or electricity, and in such cases they don't have the chance of have refrigerators to drink cold beverages. So we linked it to the brand purpose of Coca-Cola of bringing joy and happiness, and we came up with the idea of creating a fridge that, based on that principle of evaporation, doesn't need electricity to operate."

Developed with the International Physics Centre in Bogota, the Bio Cooler actually performs better the hotter it gets. The cooling system works two ways: when the plants are watered, the evaporation cools another chamber; and solar power is used to turn a gas contained in the unit into liquid. That process creates an additional cooling effect.

The project was born from Coca-Cola’s desire to bring a little bit of refreshment to locations with super hot weather and no regular power supply, and took a year to develop. The Bio Cooler works like a vending machine and can stock three different types of canned drinks—though perhaps a multi-purpose fridge-like unit might have been more useful.

In the long term, however, Hernández hopes this will grow into a more pragmatic solution. "We believe that if this idea can evolve and become global, many people in many countries in these conditions can benefit in a huge way, not only drinking cold beverages in hot places with no electricity but keeping medicines and vaccines fresh and in good condition. We hope we can take this idea to a higher level. We will love to do that."

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