Loyal readers of my blog know I am a big fan of technological inventions that shine in their simplicity and have a big impact at the same time. Among the many solutions that have been showcased earlier on The Shift, the Lifestraw is one of my favourites. Being cheap and simple, it can potentially save thousands if not millions of lives by providing clean drinking water in developing countries or regions hit by severe weather events. But… I have found a strong competitor: an off-grid portable refrigerator to stransport vaccins safely to the final destination in developing countries. And I am not the only one who seems to like it; recently its inventor received the prestigious UK James Dyson award.
The Isobar, as the device was named by its 22-years old inventor William Broadway, consist of a storage bag for vaccines and a cooling unit. The inguinity of the Isobar design lies mainly in the latter. Based on a two-phase absorption refrigeration of a water and ammonia mixture, a cooling effect is obtained when ammonia vapour is condensed and absorbed in the water. To close the cycle, the ammonia is released again by heating up the mixture. The heat is produced by burning propane, hence the refrigerator doesn’t need any electricity whatshowever. Is this hocus-pocus for you? Don’t run away, it is not that complicated technology. Trust me, I’m an engineer :)
Broadway, who is finishing his degree in industrial design and technology in the UK, found his inspiration in the Icyball, an invention of Einstein that ended up in the shelf catching dust. The device was meant for farmers who didn’t have a connection to the electricity grid yet and thus couldn’t use normal refrigerators. By the way, all people that have studied some thermodynamics –everyone should, if you ask me, it’s such a nice branch of science– know the basic principle of absorption refrigeration. It is simple and well-known. We should rather give William Broadway credit for his design and choice of application. He was able to come up with a compact and lightweight device that makes it perfectly suitable for the last stage of vaccine transport.
The Isobar can sustain a temperature of 2 to 8 degrees centrigrade –the optimal temperture for vaccines in order to maintain their full potential — for up to 30 days. This is great for the last step of vaccine distribution in remote areas and developing countries, where the logistic network is often unreliable. With more severe weather events, climate change is creating an additional handicap in vaccine delivery. Thousands of vaccines get spoiled or become potentially less effective due to problems during the ‘last mile’. Nowadays, cold-packs are used in emergencies. But it is only a stopgap: it doesn’t last long and is typically too cold, rendering the vaccines less powerfull.
[receiving the award]… gives me the confidence to pursue it with my whole heart in the knowledge that I can actually make this device and that it could have a great impact for the benefit of thousands of people
Many of you might wonder how useful this actually is. If we have to believe the World Health Organistion –I think we can– an estimated 19,4 million children worldwide failed routine immunisation services, most living in developing countries. An estimated 1,5 million lives can be saved every year if global vaccination systems improve. The Isobar can help with that and William Broadway recently received the prestigious UK Dyson award for his work. He will use the cash price to build more advanced prototypes and finalise the Isobar as soon as possible. The guy doesn’t want to make money out of it but is seeking to improve the lives of thousands of people. What a great spirit and inspiration for all of us!