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High-performance transport materials for thermally sensitive vaccines

Part of Today in the Lab - Tomorrow in Energy?

Today in the Lab – Tomorrow in Energy? shines a spotlight on research projects under development in the Technology Collaboration Programmes (TCPs). Learn more about the initiative, read the launch commentary, or explore the TCPs.


What is the aim of this project?

The aim of the coCO2vac project is to develop cold storage materials, known as phase change materials (PCM), for storage and transport of COVID-19 vaccines and other pharmaceuticals at -70 °C to -60 °C. Aqueous salt solutions that release heat when they freeze and take up heat when they melt are investigated as PCM. Producing such materials is more energy-efficient than using dry ice. Research and development of PCM requires identifying and investigating potentially usable PCM on a laboratory scale, and carrying out both application-oriented tests of the PCM in cold packs and trials of PCM production on a pilot plant scale.

How would the project be explained to a high school student?

Some COVID-19 vaccines need to be stored at -70 °C to -60 °C to remain effective. This poses a major transport challenge as these vaccines have to be distributed worldwide. Today, dry ice (carbon dioxide) is used to keep vaccines cold.

Instead of dry ice, special transport containers with PCM could be used keep vaccines cold. PCM are reusable and can repeatedly melt and solidify to release and store cold. PCM cold packs can be frozen with special refrigeration machines that are more energy-efficient than the machines that produce dry ice.

How does the project help to achieve climate and energy goals?

  • unlike dry ice, PCM cold packs are reusable, saving energy
  • freezing PCM cold packs is more energy-efficient than producing dry ice when efficient cooling equipment is used
  • due to the quantity limitations of using dry ice in enclosed transport spaces, the use of PCM allows larger quantities of pharmaceuticals to be transported at once.

What government policies could advance this project?

  • setting a higher CO2 price to improve the economics of cold packs
  • establishing ambitious targets for the reusability of such cooling solutions to boost replacement of dry ice by PCM
  • increasing vaccine distribution to countries in the global South (e.g. distribution of surplus capacity) would promote the use of reusable PCM boxes.
Transport container made with phase change materials for low-temperature transport of vaccines and other pharmaceuticals.

Transport container made with phase change materials for low-temperature transport of vaccines and other pharmaceuticals. Source: va-Q-tec AG.


Partners

  • va-Q-tec AG (Germany)
  • ZAE Bayern (Germany)

Funder

  • German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy

Expected project duration

2020-2021

About the Energy Storage TCP

Established in 1978, the Energy Storage TCP facilitates research, development, implementation and integration of energy storage technologies to optimise the energy efficiency of all kinds of energy systems and enable the increasing use of renewable energy. The Energy Storage TCP enables high-level co-ordination in research, development, dissemination and market deployment of energy storage solutions.