Can a beach umbrella use sun’s energy to provide cooling? Sammontana, Italy’s leading gelato and frozen-desserts brand, has invited international design and innovation firm CRA-Carlo Ratti Associati to design a beach umbrella that uses the sun’s energy to provide cooling, showcasing how to make summer enjoyment sustainable.
An unfolding photovoltaic array – designed in collaboration with the proponent of “transformable design” Chuck Hoberman and inspired by aerospace technologies – generates electric power, which is then used for refrigeration and cooling. The first prototypes of the beach umbrella will be showcased in the city center of Milan, Italy, from June 12th at BAM-Biblioteca degli Alberi Milano Park.
The beach umbrella designed for Sammontana, which opens like a work of origami as well as the solar systems on NASA spacecrafts, is 2.5 meters high (8.2 feet) and occupies a diameter of 3.2 meters (10.5 feet). Foldable photovoltaic panels on top of the umbrella absorb sunlight from the whole hemisphere and convert it into electricity, powering coolers and nebulizers underneath. In particular, a mini-refrigerator allows users to keep food and drinks fresh even during the warmest hours of the day. Electric power from either one or multiple umbrellas can be pooled together to power a large ice-cream refrigerator. The modular system is conceived to be scalable, bringing clean energy to the beachfront resort.
“Can we use the power of the abundant summer sunshine to make our holiday experience more sustainable?” says Carlo Ratti, founder of CRA and a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “The design concept of this project starts from using the sun to produce electricity to cool the space under the umbrella – and then scale it up to provide power to any beach resort. We are delighted that Sammontana invited us to develop this project, as both our organizations share a strong commitment to environmental values and human wellbeing.”
The foldable photovoltaic array was developed in collaboration with Chuck Hoberman, a professor at Harvard University who has spent the past four decades developing transformable structures at the crossroads of art, architecture, and engineering. Such structures allow changing an object’s shape or function through deployable, foldable or demountable elements. Inspired by photovoltaic systems on NASA’s spacecrafts, Hoberman helped develop a transformable system that combines retractable coverings, joint design, and dynamic building methods.
“The project builds on Sammontana’s objective to lower the environmental impact potentially applicable to Italian beaches – which are the iconic backdrops where Sammontana is served, marking the most pleasant and joyful moments of summer,” says Sibilla Bagnoli, Head of Communication and Image at Sammontana Italia. “For many years, our company has been focusing on such special environments, experimenting with new ways to welcome the public, manage services and innovate while protecting the environment.”
Since 2016, Sammontana has initiated a process to reduce the environmental impact of its activities, inspired by the principles put forward in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The program features an assessment and compensation of the CO2eq of the Sammontana products as well as a choice of the most advanced packaging solutions.
The company is also partnering with beach resorts that are evaluated with precise sustainability criteria, and that are committed to environmental safeguard through the use of dedicated equipment, including high-efficiency refrigerators. Since 2019, the project has involved 185 sales points, with 100 more planned to be included by the end of 2021.
A prototype of the beach umbrella will be exhibited from June 12th to August 8th, 2021 at BAM-Biblioteca degli Alberi Milano Park, which is an initiative of the Riccardo Catella Foundation. The installation, located in the fashionable Porta Nuova district of Italy’s design capital, creates a lounge area that can be accessed by the public free of charge, as with all the initiatives of the BAM cultural program. The project is showcased both in the stand-alone mode and in an aggregated form – featuring eleven beach umbrellas powering a refrigerator.
The Milanese test will serve as the first step to evaluate how the innovation process might accelerate and potentially be brought to Italy’s 8,000 km (4,970 miles) coastline, promoting a more sustainable approach to summer leisure.