Keeping things cold has always been the main goal of the food and beverage industry. Refrigeration and the cold chain are vital in keeping food edible, and drinks chilled to just the right temperature for consumption. For decades though, scientists have been looking for ways to chill drinks without refrigeration.
At first it seemed like an impossible task until someone actually did it.
Now, the thought of grabbing an ice cold drink straight out the bag and settling down for a good game of Blackjack is no longer a pipe dream. In the future you won’t need a fridge to keep your drinks cool, and the days of popping things in the freezer in an attempt to chill them faster will be long gone.
A Chilly Revolution
More than 20 years ago, the science of self-chilling cans came about. One of the pioneers in the field was Mitchell Joseph who wanted to design a can of beer that could rapidly cool itself upon activation. After trial and error, he achieved his goal using a heat exchange system powered by HFC-134a gas. While the concept worked, HFC-134a is a destructive greenhouse gas 1400 times more harmful than carbon dioxide.
Despite the hitch, scientists were encouraged by the results and set out to refine the process and make it environmentally friendly.
Today, we can see the fruits of their labour with the Chill-Can and similar products. Rolling out in stores across the world, The Chill-Can is a self-cooling beverage can that can cool its contents without the need for refrigeration. When it was first tested, the cans could reduce the temperature of the liquid by 15 degrees Centigrade within 2 minutes.
Considering the average room temperature is around 22 degrees, the liquid would drop to a frosty 7 degrees, which is more than cold enough to be thirst quenching.
The Lowdown On the Chill Factor
So, how does this technology actually work?
The cans, cups and other similar products are all designed with a heat exchange system running through the centre of the product. The most common type is a small cylinder with a valve on the bottom of the can.
When pressing a button at the base of the can opens the valve, pressurised carbon dioxide is released through the cylinder and out the bottom. The rapid expansion of the gas creates a cooling effect on the cylinder, which then rapidly cools the liquid surrounding it. After 2 minutes, the liquid has cooled down by a massive 15 degrees. This same system can be used for anything from sodas to beer, ice coffee or just about any drink that needs to be chilled when consumed.
Chilled About the Environment
But what about the environmental repercussions?
Aren’t we just pumping more CO2 into the air with all these new cans? The good news is that the carbon dioxide used in the cans is reclaimed from other processes, which make CO2 as a by-product. So essentially, the same amount of gas is being released into the atmosphere; it is just bottled up before it does.
The Chill-Can and self-chilling products actually have a positive impact on the environment, as they would require no refrigeration in-store. Less refrigeration means less electricity usage, lower carbon emissions and less greenhouse gasses entering the atmosphere.
A Can-Do Attitude
Aside from the environmental aspects, self-chilling technology is creating an entire product market in 3rd world countries where electricity and refrigeration is an issue. They are also ideal for sports facilities, outdoor markets, camping, hiking and park facilities where refrigeration is not easy to come by. As the technology expands and improves, the price will slowly come in line with regular cans and cups.
The aim here is to change the perception of how drinks should be sold in the first place, and only refrigerate beverages that need to be kept cold at all times, such as milk and drinking yoghurt. Huge strides have been made in this respect and some of the larger supermarket chains have started stocking self-chilling cans. It is just a matter of time before they become ubiquitous throughout the world, and we all have a little more chill in our lives.