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A prototype of Sure Chill's vaccine cooler
A prototype of Sure Chill’s vaccine cooler

While the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has devoted significant time and effort to help eradicate diseases from the developing world, there’s one problem: Doing so often requires immunization, which relies on keeping vials of vaccine cold until they can be administered. The vials have to be kept at exactly the right temperature — too hot or too cold, and the vaccine could lose its effectiveness. That’s a problem for places that don’t have consistent access to electricity.

13950305060_f0012d0fd4_bTo help alleviate that issue, the Seattle-based foundation has awarded a $1.4 million grant to the Sure Chill Company, a Welsh firm that’s working on a cooler that can keep its contents at low temperatures without power. The company claims that its cooler will be able to keep vaccines cold for more than 35 days without power. The grant will allow Sure Chill to begin field trials of the cooler later this year, and then hopefully bring it to market.

The cooler works with a unique property of water in order to produce its ongoing cooling. It’s designed to create a shelf of ice at the top of the cooler, and maintain all the water below at 4 degrees celsius. In the event that power to the unit is cut off, the liquid water will begin to heat up, but the ice will start to melt, creating a cycle that will keep the water at that same temperature level for an extended period of time. Here’s a video that shows how it all works:

In the event the cooler works, it could change the way vaccines are administered in the developing world. Consistent, low-power refrigeration means that it would be possible to more effectively immunize people against preventable diseases, even in places that don’t have consistent power.

Interestingly, the Gates Foundation has helped fund a similar passive vaccine storage device through the Global Good arm of Bellevue-based patent-holding company Intellectual Ventures.

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