When Phil Carbone’s mother recently mentioned that her refrigerator had broken, he made her a deal: “I’ll buy you one,” he said, “but I’m going to modify it.” She knew her son loved to tinker, so she wasn’t surprised. Growing up, he was always taking something apart—often, the family’s new VCR—and that passion carried him from Wentworth’s engineering program to head of Appliance and Building Technologies at Arthur D. Little. What Carbone’s mom didn’t know, however, was that the gadget he installed in her fridge might be a produce-preserving revolution.
At Primaira, LLC, the engineering and manufacturing firm he cofounded in 2005, Carbone, MEC ’85, and his colleagues have spent the last five years developing Bluezone, an air-cleaning device that strips produce decaying chemicals and microbes out of refrigerators. They created Bluezone for the military, which loses about 20 percent of the food it ships overseas to spoilage—that’s $1,600 per 20-foot shipping container. The test results have been dramatic: asparagus, peaches, and lettuce all last about a week longer; cauliflower gets a boost of more than two weeks. Now, the Navy is installing five Bluezone units on the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, where some 6,000 personnel will soon be enjoying fresh food longer. “To be able to provide a higher quality life to the soldiers—we’re really happy about that,” Carbone says.
And he isn’t stopping at the military—Bluezone can reduce waste in grocery stores, restaurant walk-in coolers, florist display cases, and, of course, home refrigerators like the one at Carbone’s mom’s house. When Carbone made his modification, he didn’t tell her what it was supposed to do. But it wasn’t long before she noticed something and gave him a call.“Hey,” she told her son. “The lettuce lasts longer.’” —FRANCIS STORRS