Kissalita is not the first person to try to solve the problem of keeping milk cool in soaring temperatures. For example, in 2008 a Kenyan inventor called Dominic Wanjihia showed off a gadget that he built whilst working for an NGO called Vet Aid in Somaliland. The Fine Lined Evaporative Cooler, as it is called, is a low cost, zero-energy system for keeping camel milk cool in soaring temperatures that commonly reach 45C (113 Fahrenheit). It works by funnelling wind around a metal box lined with fabric and kept water-soaked. As the water evaporates it rapidly cools a box in which the milk containers are placed. A big advantage of the system is that it can be made using local materials and is simple enough to be built by anyone.
Modified designs – that cost from $75 - have now been rolled out in various countries and adapted for use to store everything from milk, fruit and certain medicines. In Ghana, for example, a modified design allows the "mama mboga" – ladies who run market stalls – to display her fruit, vegetables and meats without it turning bad. “I left the system with the "fundi's" – the carpenters I had built it with - who had mega plans for mass production,” says Wanjhia. “I hope they made good their promises.”
While these projects are aimed at the individual farmer, others are going big when it comes to chilling milk. One of these is a US company called Promethean Power Systems which has its eyes on India – a country that currently produces and consumes more milk than any other country in the world.
"You have a quality issue," says Sam White, one of the co-founders. "You have to race warm milk from thousands of villages to large collection centres, twice a day. And if you don't chill milk within four [hours] of milking the cow, the bacteria grows to a point where it just goes bad."
He then stops and chuckles, admitting he never really expected to know so much, or care so much, about how milk is produced and stored in India. The start of that process began when he and his business partner won a Massachusetts Institute of Technology competition with a technology for improving electrification. In 2007, they went to India to test their business plan and that's when White and his partner, Sorin Grama, first heard about the "milk problem." They started wondering if there was a way to develop a cost-effective way to chill the milk more locally, maybe not at the level of individual farmers, but at least at the village level.
White and Grama toyed with different designs, and different technologies. Like Kisaalita, they thought about using solar power, but it proved to be too expensive, at least for now.
After a series of failures, though, Promethean hit upon what it thinks is a viable solution. "India's electricity grid is kind of like the sun," White explains. "You get electricity every day, but it's sporadic. So, we ditched solar and started focusing on ways to capture those eight to 10 hours you get, and store it in a battery."
But this battery doesn't store electricity. Instead, it is a thermal battery that can “store cold”. White won't go into great detail about the battery's design, except to say that it features a phase-change material that can supercool quickly in a compact space. The company recently field tested a 750 litre device with India's largest private dairy.
The cost for Promethean's chiller is around $9,000 - a good price point for bigger Indian dairies, White notes, because they are constantly looking for "peace of mind" when it comes to milk quality. He already has an order for 50 more units, albeit with some design changes. "We spent way too long building things based on the advice of venture capitalists," says White. "Now we're 100% focused on listening to what the customer wants."
The modified design incorporates a wireless device that can send employees text messages about the amount of milk in the tank, how charged the thermal battery is, and even about maintenance issues.
The company is in the process of moving from Boston to India in the coming months and also has plans for Pakistan and some Latin American countries. It is also working on adapting the tech for beer brewers, who also have specific chilling needs for correct fermentation.
"We didn't get into this to have a scientific breakthrough," White emphasizes. "We got into this to build the cheapest, simplest solution possible."