Gold medal winner's innovation can save lives of millions

The winner of the J & E Hall Gold Medal believes his new Sure Chill technology can help save the lives of millions of people in the developing world. Ian Tansley, chief technical officer and co-founder of Sure Chill, says that his vaccine refrigerator can operate for 10 days or more using water-based cooling technology without the need for a grid-based electrical supply.

Currently 75 per cent of vaccines in the poorest of countries are stored under temperatures below freezing and this leaves them unfit for use by the time they are needed but the Sure Chill refrigeration system keeps vaccines within a temperature range of 2°C to 8°C leaving them in tip-top condition.

Ian said: “Freezing renders much of the vaccine useless and because of this millions of people are missing out on key inoculation programmes. My mission is to remove this waste and by doing so protect people from life-threatening diseases.

“This enables the refrigeration system to have incredibly high temperature tolerances and crucially provides a freeze-free environment. Vaccines are sensitive to temperature and warmth is not good for them. If you get beyond the 2°C to 8°C band the vaccine doesn’t have too much effect on the people it is intended for. Take a vaccine below freezing and you are likely to loose its potency too.”

The idea for the technology came from the beautiful valleys of Wales where Ian lives, near the Snowdonia National Park. He explained: “I was walking past a frozen lake with a friend. I was trying to explain to him why there was ice on top and warm water underneath. I was describing how the warm water sitting beneath the ice is denser and that water is at its heaviest at 4°C. That’s when I had that Eureka moment. It came to me that I could use this principle in cooling.”

The company spent a long time converting a simple idea into a working technology. This meant years of building prototypes, changing one variable at a time and years of testing, perfecting and patenting.

The key to storing vaccines is the freeze-free protection and the ability to keep them cool for long periods without power. The Sure Chill principle could not be more straightforward, as Ian explains: “Ice in the fridge is surrounded by a jacket of water and because water is heaviest at 4°C it keeps the contents at that temperature.

“This combination gives you extremely accurate temperature control but at the same time provides energy storage capability.

“So, in developing countries you take your vaccine to your remote health post in one hand and take ice in the other. You put the ice and the vaccine in their separate compartments in the refrigerator. That ice is able to keep the vaccine at a perfect temperature even in high tropical temperatures.”

Sure Chill has already exported more than 3000 water-chilled refrigerators to 38 countries across the world with each unit capable of storing enough vaccine to save the lives of thousands. The technology can also be employed closer to home. The business is looking at ways in which it can keep drinks cool and be used in homes.

Being honoured with the J & E Hall Gold Medal, presented at the Institute of Refrigeration Dinner in London, was a proud moment for Ian. He said: “It’s absolutely fabulous to have won the award. I am humbled to have joined such an illustrious group of past winners during the 38 years of its existence.”