Coca-Cola’s new vending machines don’t need electricity during the day to keep drinks cold

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In some ways, the huge amount of vending machines in Japan seems like a win-win situation. In a country that gets incredibly hot and sticky in the summer, it’s nice to never be more than a few minutes’ walk from a cold drink, and for beverage companies like Coca-Cola, the machines are a huge source of income.

That said, all of those vending machines are essentially coin-operated refrigerators, collectively sucking up a huge amount of electricity. In an effort to cut down on their energy consumption, Coca-Cola has developed a new type of unit that spends as much as 16 hours a day not using any electricity at all to keep its products nice and cool.

Coca-Cola began its development push for the new, more environmentally friendly machines in the wake of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan’s Tohoku region. During the resulting power shortage, then-governor of Tokyo Shintaro Ishihara pointed to pachinko parlors and vending machines as two relatively indignantly large drains on the power grid, and many of the latter were shut down or had their cooling functions dialed back as Japan recovered from the natural disasters.

This development led to greater public concern over the ecological effects of the country’s vending machines, which in turn led soft drink companies in Japan to look for ways to revise their business practices. At Coca-Cola Japan, this led to what its engineers dubbed the Apollo Project, which resulted in the development of what the company is calling peak shift vending machines.

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Leading the development team was Planning Group Manager Yasuo Nakazato, who was given the difficult task of reducing electricity usage without increasing the machine’s dimensions or sacrificing beverage storage space.

To accomplish this goal, the team swapped out the previously used urethane foam for vacuum insulated panels. The new material is 10 times thinner than the old one, but boasts superior insulating capabilities. It’s so effective that there’s no need to actively cool the machine’s beverages between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. Instead, the drinks are cooled overnight, and maintain their low temperatures during the day.

Coca-Cola began testing the new machines in August of 2012 in cities of Japan known for their scorching hot weather, such as Saitama Prefecture’s Kumagaya and Gifu’s Tajimi. Following these successful test runs, the company has been installing them throughout Japan. In speaking with reporters this summer, Coca-Cola Japan President Tim Breatt said that the project, in which some 20 billion yen (US$198 million) has been invested over the past two years, has so far resulted in the installation of 60,000 peak shift vending machines.

This doesn’t mean Coca-Cola’s job is over, though. Breatt also revealed that the company’s target is for the new eco-friendly units to account for over half of its vending machines in Japan by 2020. Here’s hoping they reach that goal, keeping us refreshed and the earth happy at the same time.

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