Mechanical engineering students deliver

By Douglas Esser
University of Washington Bothell mechanical engineering students delivered a solar-powered cooler June 10 to their customers at a Woodinville farm.

It was on time, on budget and operating as designed at 38 degrees, said Robby Shaffer, the manager of the capstone project for four students.

The cooler already held chilled lettuce and kale to be delivered to the Bothell Community Kitchen, said Perry Acworth, manager of SAgE student farm, and one of the clients and community partners for the project.

“It’s great,” she said, “a dream come true” from a “unique partnership.”

Through the spring UW Bothell students may have noticed the activity at the 20-foot cargo container parked near the Truly House. The mechanical engineers installed insulation, welded on supports for solar panels and painted it white before it was hauled away to the farm where the solar panels were installed.

Turning a big metal box into off-the-grid walk-in cooler was challenging in its complexity, said Pierre D. Mourad, associate professor, School of STEM, engineering and mathematics division. Keeping fresh-picked vegetables safe and nutritious also was one of the more impactful capstone projects.

Project-based education with community impact motivates students, he says. “It also looks great on the resume.”

Professors, farmers and family members applauded as the students handed over the keys to the cooler. In addition to Shaffer, Jake Schriner was lead electrical engineer; Luis Alvarado, the chief financial figure; and Elliott Vega, lead mechanical engineer.

“This is spectacular,” said Kurt Sahl of 21 Acres demonstration farm, the other client for the cooler. “This is going to help quite a few farmers,” he said, and it could be an example for coolers at farms without wired electricity in the United States or around the world.

“It’s a big deal,” Sahl said.

See more photos on Flickr.

The cooler was funded through the clients by a $23,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture money.

“It is working. It is cold. We are thankful for that,” said Shaffer who shot a tour of the cooler for YouTube.