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S.Africa's Renergen to start production of ultra-cold COVID-19 vaccine storage

·2 min read

JOHANNESBURG, Feb 15 (Reuters) - South African natural gasand helium producer Renergen will start production ofits helium powered ultra-cold mobile freezer in the next fewdays and has started discussions to sell the units to logisticscompanies, it said on Monday.

Companies and governments around the world are working onways to establish cold-chain storage and delivery systems forvaccines such as the Pfizer Inc and BioNTechshot, which must be shipped and stored at ultra-coldtemperatures and can only last at standard fridge temperaturesfor up to five days.As a solution, Renergen on Monday launched its prototypecold-chain storage called Cryo-Vacc, which has a temperaturerange of -150 degrees Celsius to 8C and can store vaccines forperiods of up to 30 days without the need for any power supply.

"We've already started to take orders for this product. Sowe're ready to start going into production in the next fewdays," Renergen CEO Stefano Marani told journalists at thedemo-launch event.

The company has partnered with local distributor DPD Laser,jointly owned and controlled by The Laser Group and EuropeanDPDgroup, which will buy the units from Renergen and then rentthem out to its healthcare warehousing and logistics clients inSouth Africa and the Southern African Development community(SADC).

Marani said the company had also received multipleexpressions of interests and order requests from all over theworld.

Cryo-Vacc uses liquid helium to transport by air, and liquidnitrogen to transport by road. Current cold-chain solutions usedry ice - frozen carbon dioxide - or cold plates, but this hasnot been sustainable for South Africa said DPD Laser CEO AntonVisagie.

"Our biggest challenges ... we've got very high ambienttemperatures in South Africa, we've got long distances to traveland often when you get to the point of vaccination there is alack of infrastructure. There could be load shedding," he saidreferring to frequent scheduled power cuts.

Another difficulty with vaccine transport is that aircraftcan only carry a limited amount of dry ice as it turns into gasover time, displacing the breathable air in the cabin.

Marani said because liquid helium is only a fraction of theweight of liquid nitrogen, it will significantly reduceairfreight distribution costs and can accommodate up to 12 timesmore vials per flight compared to other solutions based oncurrent flight safety regulations.

Earlier this month the health ministry called for bids fromservice providers to import, store and distribute COVID-19vaccines at different required temperatures.

South Africa has yet to launch its COVID-19 vaccinationprogramme and the government has decided to go with the Johnson& Johnson's dose after trial results this month showedAstraZeneca's two-shot vaccine was less effectiveagainst the new variant of the coronavirus dominating SouthAfrican infections.

($1 = 0.8248 euros)(Reporting by Nqobile Dludla; editing by David Evans)