Building a passive freezer

Today I am getting the chance to bridge my schoolwork to the real world, something that a lot of undergrads at other schools seem to miss out on.

Our second project for our class called "Modeling and
Simulation of the Physical World" was intended to focus on heat flow. Our
professors pointed us towards a packet of suggested projects, and being
interested in sustainability, my partner (Brendan '14) and I chose to model a
passive freezer. I'll tell you a little more about what that is in a second...

What I found out later is that one of my classmates, Ben had
actually worked on the construction of a passive freezer over the summer, under
the direction of Tom Tailer, from Vermont. Ben suggested the project to one of
our professors, and he included it as an official suggestion. The Tailer's even
visited Olin to give us information and answer our questions. After we finished
our modeling projects, Ben, knowing that I had worked on this particular
project, asked if I wanted to drive to Vermont for the weekend and do some
light construction on the actual freezer we had modeled. I enthusiastically
accepted, and started packing!

Friday evening came around, and I squished in Ben's
veggie-oil powered car, along with Ken and Chase, both 2014-ers. We drove for
about three hours, and arrived at the Tailers' to be welcomed wholeheartedly.
Tom and Beth showed us where we would be sleeping, and let us get unpacked
while they prepared some cookies and cider for a late-night snack.

The Tailers' passive freezer is a large room, built into the
side of a hill, so that it is halfway underground. There is a 20 inch space
between the inner and outer walls, and that gap is going to be filled with
polystyrene beads, shred from used Styrofoam. The walls will be lined with 2
liter soda bottles filled with a saltwater solution. The Tailers will allow
airflow into the freezer during the chilly Vermont winters, letting the
saltwater in the bottles freeze, and seal the freezer in the warmer months when
the frozen bottles will maintain a (predicted) temperature of around 20 degrees
Fahrenheit. The freezer provides a use for post-consumer materials like plastic
bottles and polystyrene (which is not recyclable at all), and won't use any
electricity other than a light bulb in each of the three compartments. The
freezer is big enough to store food for the Tailers and a bunch of their
neighbors, and if it works, could save a significant amount of carbon from
being emitted.

styrofoam.jpgTom holding the ground up Styrofoam

First, we worked on shredding Styrofoam that the Tom had
collected from donations and dumpster diving. The wood chipper we were using
had to be modified slightly to be able to shred the Styrofoam into pellets
about a half a centimeter wide. Yay engineering! So we started shredding Styrofoam,
and the pellets stuck everywhere! All over our clothes, in my pockets, in
everyone's hair. There were many dandruff jokes made, and at one point Chase
started brushing pellets off my sweatshirt saying "You're so fuzzy!" I'm sure
Tom and Beth will be finding the dots in random crevices of their house for a
few years.

We also did some caulking of the outer walls, so Chase, Ben,
and I all climbed down into the space between the inner and outer walls with
caulk guns and one headlamp. There were a lot of acrobatics necessary to be
able to climb around each other in such a small space. I was relieved when
Chase told me that caulk does indeed wash out of clothing. It was a good time.

Around noon, Ben's family stopped by to visit, bringing with
them bagels and fresh apples (which I enjoyed immensely - fresh fruit is not
commonplace in college). They joined us in filling up bottles with salt and
warm water after lunch.

After it got too cold to be playing with water, we
constructed a pile of wood for a bonfire that will be lit after dinner. bonfire.jpg

Me and Ken with the bonfire that we built (sorry for the bad picture quality - it was dark)

I am looking forward to dinner, a giant bonfire, and
tomorrow's continuation of passive freezer construction with some great people,
and a noble goal.

There's nothing like some good old manual labor - especially
if it is to the benefit of the Earth.


You can read a little more about the Tailers and their
passive freezer here:

(Edited to add: Unfortunately caulk does not wash out of clothing.)

Posted in: