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    Eco-Help for the Cold Chain

    By Keith R | October 11, 2006

    Topics: Climate Change, Design for the Environment (DfE), Energy & the Environment, Environmental Protection, Health Issues, Protection of the Ozone Layer, Renewable Sources | No Comments »

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    What is the connection between a black-tie awards show in the UK and fighting disease in the field in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC)?

    Answer: it’s in all how you keep cool.

    Last week Refrigeration and Air Conditioning (RAC) Magazine held its annual “Cooling Industry Awards” ceremony in the UK, replete with tuxedos and black ties. The Magazine launched the awards in 2004 to encourage the RAC industry and its customers to develop innovations that reduce energy consumption and generally make RAC products more environmentally-friendly.

    This year’s recipient of the “Environmental Pioneer in Refrigeration award” is particularly noteworthy, at least for those of us concerned with health and the environment in LAC nations. The winner in question, “The SolarChill Vaccine Cooler and Refrigerator Project,” will enable vaccines to be stored in areas around the world without an adequate electricity supply.

    For years (decades) the World Health Organization (WHO) and its partners in immunization programs, such as UNICEF and the Rockefeller Foundation, have complained that a major stumbling block to achieving vaccination rates in developing countries equivalent to those in OECD nations was “maintaining the cold chain” — i.e., keeping the vaccines (and other heat-sensitive medicines, for that matter) properly refrigerated at all points in the distribution chain so that they do not spoil or lose effectiveness.

    This is particularly a challenge in places with non-existent, inadequate or intermittent electricity supply — a chronic problem in many LAC nations (nationwide in some such as the Dominican Republic, in pockets (usually rural) in others), and round-the-clock operation of generators is expensive or otherwise not an available option. It is also a problem for relief operations responding to natural or man-made disasters, such as hurricanes, volcanoes or massive flooding.

    SolarChill addresses that problem. It operates on solar energy, but unlike many solar-powered equipment, does not rely on the use of lead-acid storage batteries (a health and environmental concern, and often a barrier to acceptance of solar-power). It can also be plugged into the grid where connections are available.

    But its innovations go beyond simply use of renewable energy and avoidance of lead-acid backup batteries. The new SolarChill Unit also addresses several environmental concerns about existing kerosene and battery-powered solar refrigerators on the market, namely:

    The international organizations (IOs), nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and aid agencies that joined together six years ago to develop the SolarChill Project include WHO, UNICEF, UNEP’s OzoneAction Branch, GTZ Proklima, Programs for Appropriate Technologies in Health (PATH), Greenpeace International, and the Danish Technological Institute (DTI). Also involved were two private sector “participants” that had much to do with developing the prototypes, but whom the press releases from the IOs and NGOs tend to omit: Danfoss Compressors GmbH and A/S Vestfrost.

    SolarChill has already been field-tested successfully in Cuba, Indonesia and Senegal. Once it receives WHO approval it will be deployed across the world.

    This is a project worthy of hearty congratulations to all involved. Not only does it address a pressing public health need, it does so in an environmentally responsible manner. Hopefully it will be just the first, and not the last, mixed (IO/NGO/private sector) partnership of its kind.

    For more information on Solarchill, visit

    — Keith R

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