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Much of the post-harvest loss of fruits and vegetables in developing countries is due to the lack of proper storage facilities. While refrigerated cool stores are the best method of preserving fruits and vegetables they are expensive to buy and run. Consequently, in developing countries there is an interest in simple low-cost alternatives, many of which depend on evaporative cooling which is simple and does not require any external power supply.

The basic principle relies on cooling by evaporation. When water evaporates it draws energy from its surroundings which produces a considerable cooling effect. Evaporative cooling occurs when air, that is not too humid, passes over a wet surface; the faster the rate of evaporation the greater the cooling. The efficiency of an evaporative cooler depends on the humidity of the surrounding air. Very dry air can absorb a lot of moisture so greater cooling occurs. In the extreme case of air that is totally saturated with water, no evaporation can take place and no cooling occurs.

Generally, an evaporative cooler is made of a porous material that is fed with water. Hot dry air is drawn over the material. The water evaporates into the air raising its humidity and at the same time reducing the temperature of the air. There are many different styles of evaporative coolers. The design will depend on the materials available and the users requirements.