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Straw Bale ice house in a container

Posts: 28
Location: NJ
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My apologies if this is badly filed as it could fit in either here or food storage...
I got an idea last night for an ice cellar, so I figured I post it here, so you guys could tell me why it wouldn't work or how it was actually thought of decades ago...

Here is the idea:
Idea: Insulate a Land-Sea container with straw bales and then slide Frozen IBCs inside with food to provide long term cold storage.

Dimensions of Land-sea container:
19'4"'L × 7'8"W × 7'10"H
232"L × 92"W × 94"H

Dimensions of hay bale:
Height 15 inches and width 20. There's no set size on the length.
Or the straw bale house people say:14" x 36" x 18"

Dimensions of an 275 gallon IBC container:
48"D x 40"W x 46"H

So 92-40 = 52" wide max, so a bail on each side leaving a 52" wide area for storage

94-46= 48" max height, so two above, one below for 45" leaving 49" high area for storage. So IBCs with 3" extra for wheels.

232-40" = 192, so space for 4 IBC tanks to roll/slide in

So if you take a 20' container and line the walls floor and a double layer on the ceiling with straw bales, you will be left with a volume in the middle that will fit 4 IBC containers.
The hardest part is figuring out how or if bales can be attached to the front doors, so that they move with the doors, or do you have to stack the bales before closing the doors.
You will need to build a ridiculously sturdy rack above the bottom bales inside that volume to support possibly 4 tons of water plus a measure of safety.
If you modify an IBC container so that the drain bungs are replaced with flush plugs, you should be able to put in about 250 gallons of water, which if left outside in a suitable winter will freeze into a nice 2000 lb block of ice.
Then before it gets warm, you then slide the IBC(s) onto a trailer with a suitable deck height, bring it(them) to the container and slide them inside and close up the container.
This could be made easier by either mounting many small wheels on the bottom of the IBC or using metal rails or maybe just a smooth waxed slab of wood.
Possibly adding a method of locking the end of the trailer to the support rack inside the container would be a good safety measure during extraction or insertion.

Depending on the heat of your summers, or the possibility of adding additional insulation to the outside of the container (partial burial, adding support for full burial, shading with trees, burying in more straw, etc.), you could then have "free" cold storage, by placing one to three frozen IBCs inside the container and then sliding in one to three pallet loads of items for cold storage all summer long.

The problems I see are dealing with the condensation coming off the frozen IBCs to make sure it doesn't wet the bales and the logistics of moving a 2000 lbs block of ice or tank of water in and out of the container and around your property.
The solution to the former is probably just building in a drainage channel into the support rack to channel the water away from the bales, but there may also be some condensation on the inside of the container wetting the outside of the bales.
The other solution is to bag each of the bales, or create an air tight-ish chamber around the central chamber.
The solution to the later is a properly designed container rack, trailer and storage racks. Figure out the best way to move the frozen or liquid mass (rollers/slides/rails, maybe a used pallet jack) inside the container and then include the same system on the trailer and storage racks, and include a way to lock the trailer to each to prevent separation during movement.

It is also possible that the IBCs don't have to be moved at all, if leaving the doors open will allow them to freeze completely in place in the container.

Heck with some logistical preparation, a frozen IBC and a fan could be used for air conditioning a home.
Of course none of this works if the IBC bursts when it freezes.

Richard Hauser
Posts: 3513
Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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IBC totes break if they freeze. You would need a way to prevent that.

Google Pykrete (pykecrete, pykcrete, sp?). What England did in WW2 to make tough ice (adding 14% sawdust). It also makes for a LONG lasting ice block, as it self insulates and regulates.

Make the blocks as big as you can handle.

Buy an insulated reefer container. Insulating with bale inside a container will be really difficult to begin with, then add the ice and condensation and you have a recipe for disaster.

Or build in a more economic shape for an icehouse (more cube-like).
Richard Hauser
Posts: 28
Location: NJ
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The pycrete sounds interesting, but the Wikipedia article still mentions the expansion at freezing which may still burst the IBC. I also worry about the slowing the rate of freezing, as I don't know whether that would be an bonus or a flaw. The 15% loss of volume also doesn't thrill me as it lowers the thermal mass. As a substitution I could replace the IBC with four 55 gallon drums strapped to a pallet. I have read that they will not burst when frozen and the sides could easily be reinforced with fiberglass tape.

How much insulation is on a refer container?
If there is enough then it would be far superior due to the greater storage volume.
Posts: 84
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If you can't get a refer container, just hiring a spray foam contractor to come in and spray all the walls would get you a functionally similar result. You would have to cut the insulation yourself for a functional joint at the doors, but you would end up with an insulation 2-4 times less thermally conductive than straw, that wouldn't have trouble with excess humidity. If done right it would also be effectively air tight, so you might have to design for at least a little air flow, so that you don't get an accumulation of Ethylene gas and the air doesn't turn stale.

I agree with most of what you said and it sounds like a really interesting idea, unfortunately I don't know enough about IBCs freezing. Would it be possible to only fill them up 3/4s of the way with water, and then as it freezes and expands it pushes up? You would need to leave a hole on the top so the air pressure doesn't deform the IBC but I can't understand why that wouldn't work.

If you keep the IBC on a pallet You could probably screw casters onto the bottom of it. It would probably be good to reinforce the bottom of the pallet too. You would have to do research and make sure to get adequately strong casters, but it would allow you to move it with ease if it was on a relatively level surface. On slopes, good luck.
Posts: 3197
Location: Southern alps, on the French side of the french /italian border 5000ft elevation
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Well, i would use a small shipping container, lets say a 12 footer, dig a "foundation" fill it with a layer 1.5 to 2 feet thick of air entrained concrete blocks. Two strawbales wider and longer than the container dimensions. Chuck the container on top of that. Lay one more layer of air entrained concrete blocks on the sides, exept one door (you could even cut one door in the container's door, like a small house door, for less open surface) Then lay strawbales on the air entrained concrete blocks on their edge. This gives you a R of 6 (euro R value) Normaly this is good for a pasive house. Lay two layers on top of the container, for a R of 12. (still euro R values) Tarp the whole thing with heavy truck tarp i'd think. Then pile some dirt against the walls, exept the front. May be you could do the roof too. I would think, deal with the front, insulating the doors with 8 inches of polyurethane foam. Well, i think one door could blocked off and piled up with bales too.

If you're affraid rodents, and insects would infest the bales, over here, we put quicklime in between the layers. Nasty stuff, wear gloves, glasses and a mask.
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Freezing 2000 pounds of water will take some seriously low temps for extended times. The thermal mass of water works in both directions. Meaning its hard to heat and hard to cool water compared to most things.

That said you dont need 200 pound blocks, Ice houses have been around forever. those blocks you can buy at the store will work fine you just need a lot of them.

so if you have harsh winters I would recommend you find something you can use as a large ice cube mold (maybe 2 liter bottles with the top part cut off?) and start producing them to drop into your ibc's. I also second the idea of just getting a refrigerated container instead. Look into burring it for extra insulation or at least parking it in permanent shade.

I recall reading about an icehouse that burned to the ground while the huge pile of ice inside took months to finally melt.
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