Sure Chill Company awarded US$1.4m by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

To fund further innovation in the vaccine cold chain

The company has been awarded a grant to develop a vaccine cooler

The Sure Chill Company, a refrigeration technology specialist located in Wales, UK, has been awarded US$1.4m by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop a lifesaving vaccine cooler as part of the Foundation’s goal to eliminate preventable diseases worldwide. The cooler will be able to operate for more than 35 days without power.

The grant will enable the Sure Chill Company to move from proof-of-concept to field trials within the next year.

'The funds will allow us to integrate the Sure Chill technology into a vaccine cooler, which will mean more lives can be saved in remote locations,' said Keith Bartlett, Chief Executive of the Sure Chill Company.

'Conventional refrigeration technologies can put vaccines at risk of either freezing or getting too warm. This reduces potency and means that immunisation programmes are not as effective as they could be. The Sure Chill Company’s technology ensures that vaccines reach children in optimum condition,' he added. 'This robust, pragmatic and user-friendly cooling solution has the potential to save the lives of countless children across the world.'

The devices will allow vaccines to be stored safely in challenging environments with no power and ambient temperatures as high as 43°C

Ian Tansley, Chief Technical Officer and inventor at the Sure Chill Company, added: 'The new vaccine coolers will be smaller than the company's existing vaccine refrigerators, making them suitable for small facilities in remote places. The devices will allow vaccines to be stored safely in challenging environments with no power and ambient temperatures as high as 43°C.'

The project will run for 15 months and see close collaboration with key partners, particularly in the field trials, which will be conducted in East and West Africa later this year.

The company has recruited a team of specialists with experience of working in remote locations in Africa and Asia to support its research and development programme.

The Sure Chill technology is based on the scientific principle that water is at its heaviest at 4°C, which also happens to be the optimum temperature for storing vaccines. The technology harnesses this natural phenomenon to create a constantly chilled environment within the refrigeration unit – whether there is power or not. It is so reliable that it will maintain a steady temperature for 10 days or more after power has been interrupted. This is achieved through the movement of dense water at 4°C, generated as the system’s ice bank interacts with warmer water circulating within the unit. Once power has been used to generate the ice bank in the first instance, the Sure Chill technology channels the supply of naturally generated 4°C water to the refrigeration compartment without the need for any further power. This process can continue until the ice bank, the ultimate generator of the dense water, finally melts and needs to be refrozen, which can take as little as two hours.

In effect, the Sure Chill system creates a natural and internal energy store that is capable of providing a constantly chilled storage environment in areas where there is an intermittent power supply. And if there is no power at all, as if often the case in regions where vaccines are most needed, then the system can be teamed with solar power with exactly the same results.

Vaccines are irreversibly damaged by exposure to heat or freezing within the cold chain delivery system and once damaged they are less effective and do not protect fully from disease. The Sure Chill Company says its technology solves this problem.

The company has already been awarded £100,000 in funding to develop the proof-of-concept version of the cooler.