The Cardiff scientists who re-invented the fridge and are saving lives around the world
It is the lifesaving reimagining of the humble fridge credited with helping saving tens of millions of lives – and it all came about thanks to a Welsh lake.
Multi-million-pound Cardiff firm Sure Chill created a fridge that doesn’t need a constant source of power, meaning life-saving vaccines can be stored at the correct temperature in countries with frequent power cuts or in hostile environments.
The idea was inspired by nature when the company’s chief technical officer Ian Tansley was walking through Snowdonia National Park in 2008 when he thought about how ice floated on top of a lake while fish could swim below.
Sure Chill CEO Nigel Saunders said: “We were previously a renewable energy company working in the UK and out in Africa.
“We saw the World Health Organisation were struggling to keep vaccines at the right temperature and Ian had the idea while walking past a frozen lake.”
Production started in 2010 and the company sold and shipped their first product to South Sudan in 2011.
The company said since their first sale their technology has helped save more than 36m lives.
When the Sure Chill fridge has power the water surrounding the compartment cools and forms ice above.
This leaves only the water at around 4C cooling what is kept inside the fridge.
When the power is switched off the water warms and rises while the ice begins to melt, keeping the water at 4C.
The method means the fridge can maintain a steady temperature without power for weeks – crucial for vaccines which need to be kept between two and eight degrees or their potency and effectiveness begins to decrease.
Sure Chill employees often visit the countries where their products are used and witness first hand the impact it can have.
Mr Saunders said: “We are changing people’s lives. We don’t really think about refrigeration but it is one of the foundations of modern society.
“From keeping your children safe to storing your food. It’s really quite emotional when we deliver the product.”
He added Sure Chill, which employs around 15 people, is proof technology-focused companies can thrive outside of larger cities.
Mr Saunders said: “We are proud to be in Wales and really challenge that status quo and prove you don’t have to based in London or Silicon Valley. We see ourselves as a disrupter.”
Having helped saved lives across the world, Sure Chill plan to move into the commercial market in the next few years.
Mr Saunders said: “We started in a medical capacity and have supplied our product to 47 countries across the world, from Africa to India.
“Now there’s an opportunity for commercial appliances to be used at home.
“With fridges at home if the power goes off it’s no longer cool. But with Sure Chill this wouldn’t happen.
“And it could help reduce energy usage too. You could turn off the fridge at peak [electricity usage] times to cut down on costs knowing the fridge is still cold.”
In 2014 Sure Chill received $1.5m from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to help speed up the development of a cooler that would allow vaccination programmes to reach children living in remote locations.