UVM Extension Ag Engineering

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A downloadable PDF of this blog post is available here.

Demand for on-farm cold storage of produce is increasing as local markets for these goods expand. Many local producers are asking about CoolBots™, a tool that works with a window air-conditioner to make a cooler out of an insulated space. This article collects information about CoolBots and  highlights some considerations growers should be aware of.

Why use a CoolBot?

CoolBots cost less to install than a traditional refrigeration system.  They can be installed by anyone with basic mechanical skills.  The maintenance is also something that can be done by most people with basic skills.

In a nutshell

  • Understand your storage needs; 
    • How much of each crop is being stored?  How much space is needed for each crop?
    • Target temperature and humidity for each crop or group (see USDA Handbook 66 and UVM Crop Storage Planner)
    • Cooler size (UVM Crop Storage Planner)
    • How often will you be opening the cooler door?  How can you reduce that?
    • How will you remove field heat prior to storage?
  • Build a good cooler box (room)
  • Understand the limitations of the CoolBot
  • Use a  recommended AC unit of appropriate size
  • Plan for maintenance (cleaning the air conditioner coil, off-season storage, protection from elements, clearing the drain pan and drain hole, etc.)

Many vegetable farmers utilize Coolbots ($349), a controller that allows the AC unit to run with a lower temperature than normal, to simplify the refrigeration system of their walk-in coolers.  

Store It Cold, the manufacturer, has a website with excellent resources and FAQ’s,including a list of recommended AC units.  

CoolBots are NOT recommended for: 

  • Rapidly cooling a product 
  • As a freezer – CoolBots perform best above 36 °F and will not go below 32 °F.
  • Sites with many door openings per day (for example  > 6 times per hour)
  • Running through the winter – not a show stopper, but you need to be more careful about which AC unit you choose

Other things to be very aware of, according to the CoolBot controller manufacturer, include

A NYSERDA report found that a cost estimate of the CoolBot system (15,000 BTU/hr) is $750 installed compared to $4,400 for a conventional system. The operating costs of a CoolBot system are comparable to traditional refrigeration system.

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