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Incubator uses PCM to keep lab samples at optimum temperatures

Ben Welter - Saturday, December 22, 2018

Intellectual Ventures’ Global Good fund has signed a licensing agreement with JP Selecta of Spain to manufacture and distribute a microbiological incubator for laboratories in areas with unreliable electrical power.

Incudigit SV 30LThe body of the Incudigit-SV 30L is lined with phase change material, enabling the device to maintain a user-adjustable temperature setpoint of 35° C, 36° C or 37° C for at least eight hours without power. 

“This incubator will help frontline health workers perform important culture-based microbiological tests in places where power is unreliable – a critical step in managing diseases like tuberculosis, sepsis, enteric and diarrheal diseases, and sexually-transmitted bacterial infections,” said Maurizio Vecchione, executive vice president of Global Good.

Three members of the Intellectual Ventures team that developed the incubator (Michael Friend, principal investigator; Simon Ghionea, senior researcher and electrical engineer; and Andy Miller, senior researcher and mechanical engineer) fielded questions about the device.

Q: What was your role in the development of the Incudigit-SV 30L?

A: The team came up with the initial concept, analyzed and designed the first-generation prototype, tested in the lab and the field and then transitioned the device to JP Selecta for the product development cycle. After the first product units were developed, the team then verified the performance of the units.

Q: What was the biggest challenge in developing the device?

Drawing of Incudigit SV 30 prototypeA: The device has to be able to support power blackouts which could occur with ambient conditions above and below the temperature setpoints (of which there are three), so developing a method to properly assess the state of the PCM was a challenge. Additionally, while the initial PCM chosen for the device had great performance at first, it was discovered that after repeated deep cycling that the enthalpy was depleting. This PCM could be recharged using an overheat procedure; however this imposed an unacceptable impact on the use case. We wound up having to change to a more stable PCM with slightly less performance than the original.

Q: Describe the typical user of the device.

A: The typical user is a medical technician/microbiologist in a laboratory which does not have reliable power. In most countries in the developing world this may be all the labs with the exception of the national reference laboratory.

Q: When will manufacturing/distribution begin?

A: With product launch this week, manufacturing/distribution is just beginning. The first units will be delivered to Doctors Without Borders for pilot tests in South Sudan and Niger in January as well as the African Medical and Research Foundation and the Lao-Oxford-Mahosot Hospital Wellcome Trust Research Unit. As this is allowing microbial culture to take place in labs where it previously could not occur, it will be difficult to estimate quantities.

Q: Describe how the device functions, especially how PCM is used. Does the device include a battery to provide active cooling and power the electronics when external power is not available?

A: The device uses PCM as a “thermal storage battery” in order to control the temperature (see reference paper http://medicaldevices.asmedigitalcollection.asme.org/article.aspx?articleid=2718461). A key feature is to maintain the PCM in a state such that it can maintain incubation setpoint temperatures at 35, 36, and 37 C during power blackouts with ambient conditions that can be above or below the setpoints. No active heating or cooling is used, only a small battery to maintain the electronics to perform temperature and power monitoring. [see YouTube video]

Q: What are the specs on the phase change material?

A: It's a paraffin with a peak melt point of 37 C and a thermal storage capacity of 160 joules per gram.

Q: How much PCM is used in each device?

A: 19 liters.

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