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IMAGE: Michael Ewert, left, and Sue Garman
Michael Ewert, left, receives a certificate from JSC Associate Director Sue Garman.
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Michael Ewert,
Johnson Space Center,
Houston, Texas

A JSC engineer turns the Sun's heat into a cool invention

January 2003 - When JSC engineer Michael K. Ewert entered his design for a solar-powered house in his sixth-grade science fair, he never dreamed he would some day be designing air conditioning systems for a human habitat on the Moon. But that is exactly how it turned out.

Ewert, who has been developing a cooling system for the Moon since 1992, took his original design concept and applied it to a more down-to-Earth application -- solar powered refrigeration.

"My idea started with a conceptual design for a solar-powered air conditioning system for use on the Moon. I began looking at what people were doing on Earth and became interested in solar refrigeration systems. Technically, it is the same type of cooling system but on a smaller scale," Ewert said.

As a result, Ewert was awarded his third patent since 2001 for his solar-powered refrigeration system. The latest patent focuses on the innovative control techniques that enable the refrigerator to run efficiently.

The battery-free solar refrigerator -- a battery-free 0.1-cubic-meter (4-cubic-foot) design -- is operated by a variable speed compressor, solar panel and thermal storage unit that work together to utilize the Sun's energy and run the refrigerator with optimum efficiency.

"The refrigerator can run on as little as five hours of sun[light] a day. It tries to keep a cool temperature all the time. The control system matches the amount of sunshine to the compressor's speed so that it can run slow in the morning and speed up in the afternoon when the Sun is most intense," Ewert said. "During a stretch of cloudy days, the refrigerator builds up thermal storage and can remain cold for up to a week."

SunDanze Refrigeration Inc., founded by co-inventor David Bergeron, is currently selling the solar cooling system for $1,150. Two dozen have sold to date and Ewert has high hopes for the refrigerator's future.

"The startup company is small, but sales have continually increased," Ewert said. "I see the first potential use in the area of small business. It (the solar refrigerator) could easily be used for such things as selling refreshments. Hopefully, the price will come down and more people will be able to use it."

Ewert says he enjoys working on inventions that have worldwide implications, such as his solar refrigeration concept, because of the benefit that he can bring to people around the globe.

"It inspires me to work on technology knowing it has the potential to improve people's lives," Ewert said.

Ewert is hoping to promote his state-of-the-art solar cooling technology to the automotive industry later this year.

Curator: Kim Dismukes | Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty | Updated: 06/23/2003
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