A group of Maltese researchers has adapted innovative cooling technology it was working on earlier this year, for use in the transportation of Covid-19 vaccines.

The recently UK-certified Pfizer vaccine has to be kept at minus 70 degrees Celsius.

The University of Malta explained in a statement that last February, research engineers within the Faculty of Engineering finalised a design for a high-performance imaging product. Some of the design challenges they faced were related to cooling processors and image sensors.

“We needed to cool internal components to less than -20 degrees Celsius, so we had to rethink cooling methods and eventually came up with something small enough to fit within a portable electronic product,” project lead Andre Micallef from the Department of Electronic Systems Engineering said. 

As the pandemic progressed, the research team quickly realised that this technology could be adapted from cooling electronics to the cooling of vaccines.

The university explained that current last-mile transporters cool vaccines passively, isolating the active ingredient from the outside heat until it has reached its destination. This only lasts up to a couple of days unless more dry ice is added, which can be impractical in remote areas where infrastructure is lacking.

Instead, the new cooling technology uses an active cooling method based on the Peltier effect. Conventional applications of this technology waste power and generate excessive waste heat. However, the Maltese team found a way to make a compact cooling system efficient enough to achieve temperatures down to near cryogenic levels.

The research team has partnered with New Energy Ltd, a local company known for producing power systems for the audio-visual industry.

“By using hot swap battery-packs we can keep the system running for a very long time”, said Alec Fenech, responsible for leading project contributions from the private sector.

ICECAP has secured close to €200,000 of funding from the Malta Council for Science and Technology through FUSION: The R&I Technology Development Programme. It covers a two-and-a-half-year period of development.

The team has started the process towards filing two patents, whilst racing towards a viable electronic prototype by next year.

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