One in five children who need vaccinations can’t get them. And while that fact is neither startling nor incomprehensible, it is tragic.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has spent several years and millions of dollars trying to cure the diseases that afflict children unnecessarily in the world’s poorest countries, but always run up against the last mile problem with vaccine distribution. Simply put, there are too many children in too many places without access to the necessary vaccines, because those vaccines lose their efficacy without proper refrigeration.
Enter The Sure Chill Co. with its novel way to store vaccines at the proper temperature without the need for an electrified or gas-powered refrigeration source.
“Practically it’s about putting a cooler in a place where there wouldn’t normally be one and enable monthly deliveries of vaccines that can be preserved properly,” says Ian Tansley, the company’s chief technology officer.
To help bring Snowdonia, Wales-based Sure Chill technology to market the Gates Foundation has given the company a new $1.4 million, following an earlier grant of $100,000 in late 2013. In addition, the company has raised roughly 2.5 million British pounds sterling for its commercially focused line of refrigeration products which offer greater energy efficiency and cost benefits over traditional refrigeration techniques, according to Tansley.
“There’s a discrete task in the Gates Foundation funding to take this proof of concept that we’ve built into a mass manufactured unit available to the market and qualified by the World Health Organization,” says Tansley. The roll-out to the aid organizations and medical groups is the first phase of the company’s development — with products for the commercial and then residential markets to follow.
“We’ll go into the commercial market when there’s a real commercial driver. It’s a multiple of the medical market and there’s another leap again to go into the domestic market,” says Tansley. “And the cost differential of building Sure Chill into a refrigerator is quite small. Essentially it’s a plastic molded liner with some water inside it that’s going to transform these refrigerators from what they are now into this amazing new device.”
Right now the only gating factor is the company’s production run, and the need for ice as an initial cooling mechanism for the company’s technology to work. Indeed, some of the money from the Gates Foundation will go to a trial project which will run for 15 months in East and West Africa later in the year.
The Sure Chill Company’s refrigeration technology harnesses a unique property of water to create a constantly chilled environment within the unit. Water is at its heaviest at 4 degrees Centigrade, which is roughly the ideal temperature for storing vaccines and fresh food and beverages. The technology The Sure Chill Co. developed uses this phenomenon to create a constantly chilled environment in a refrigeration unit — with or without power for up to 10 days. As ice melts, the refrigeration unit receives a constant stream of water at 4 degrees. So the refrigeration mechanism is capable of working even in places where the power supply is intermittent at best.
The firm already has vaccine refrigerators operating in the field in more than 30 countries and shipped 200 devices to the Philippines to help with aid efforts in the wake of the Haiyan Supertyphoon.