Dulas, leading designer and manufacturer of renewable energy systems, has been awarded £57,400 of funding from the Welsh government’s SMARTCymru programme, to support the development of its Solar Direct Drive Refrigerators.
Keeping vaccines cool is a major public health challenge across the developing world, where a lack of electricity availability can mean vital medical supplies aren’t kept at sufficiently low temperatures to be fit for use. During the recent Ebola outbreak, Dulas provided solar fridges to Sierra Leone to support vaccination efforts.
Conventional solar powered refrigerators rely on large, heavy batteries for storing energy to run after dark or during cloudy weather. These batteries have a limited life and their replacement is frequently a difficult logistical challenge. With this in mind, Dulas identified a gap in the market and set about developing a battery free solar fridge.
This research and development process has been supported by the Welsh government’s SMARTCymru program, and not only have these refrigerators now successfully exceeded stringent World Health Organisation PQS Standards but are also currently being shipped to remote regions in Honduras, Yemen, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.
Welsh Economy Minister, Edwina Hart, said: “Dulas has made a significant impact on the health and wellbeing of people living in remote locations and hostile environmental conditions through developing and supplying a range of renewable energy products and services.
“I am delighted that SMARTCymru funding has helped the company develop a new technically advanced vaccine refrigeration system. It will support national immunisation programmes around the world and be of invaluable use in laboratories, hospitals and primary healthcare clinics where there is little or no access to electricity.”
In addition to the benefits this unique technology brings to the international community, the development of this solar vaccine refrigerator has enabled Dulas to secure and expand its solar international export business, contributing at least £1m annually to export turnover, as well as creating and safeguarding jobs in rural Machynlleth.
The secret of the new Solar Direct Drive Refrigerator technology is the use of advanced phase change material (PCM) that freezes and thaws at +5 degrees. This PCM is frozen when the sun is out and at night it slowly melts maintaining a stable +5C inside the refrigerator. For vaccines to remain potent they must always be stored between +2C and +8C so Dulas’ +5C refrigerator is perfect for this task.
“Solar powered refrigerators are the simplest and most effective solution to the challenge of preserving life-saving vaccines for health centres without access to consistent electricity across the world,” said Guy Watson, Head of International Operations at Dulas.
“Our battery powered solar fridges have proved hugely beneficial to global vaccination programs, but batteries don’t last forever and eventually need replacement. To combat this, and with the aid of Welsh Government funding, Dulas has succeeded in developing an entirely battery free solar vaccine refrigerator, greatly increasing the reliability of vaccine storage for some of the hardest to reach communities in the world.
“Not only will this provide remote health centres with the tools they need to continue saving lives, but the product’s commercial success will help feed back into the Welsh economy”, he added.