April 2007 Issue

Marine refrigeration: Thermoelectric Cooler Test

For this test of “electric ice chests,” we looked at four very similar portable refrigerators that offer an alternative for those who can’t afford or don’t have the need for a conventional boat refrigeration system. These are thermoelectric devices that use solid-state wafers, aluminum heat sinks, and electric fans to maximize the effect of heat transfer caused by passing an electric current through two connected dissimilar metals. Two manufacturers, Igloo and Waeco, supplied us with test units. Igloo sent its Cool Chill 40, while Waeco sent two models: the Tropicool TC-32FL and the Mobicool CR-32. We also bought a Coleman PowerChill 40 from Wal-Mart. Prices ranged from $65 to $160.

The main drawback of thermoelectric coolers is power usage. This will likely be an issue during extended use or for boats with small battery banks and anemic charging systems. The 106-130 amp load, over a 24-hour period, is about twice as much demand as a built-in evaporative sytem and about three times the demand of the most efficient—and most expensive—installed systems. Also, thermoelectric units are limited in their ability to cool internal temperatures, usually to a maximum of about 40 degrees below the ambient temperature.

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