Georgia Tech Receives Grand Challenges Explorations Grant to Design Energy-Efficient Vaccine Warehousing System

The Georgia Institute of Technology has received a $100,000 Grand Challenges Explorations grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The program funds individuals worldwide to explore ideas that can break the mold in how persistent global health and development challenges are solved.

Jonathan Colton, a professor in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering and the School of Industrial Design at Georgia Tech, will pursue an innovative global health and development research project focused on designing a net-zero energy warehousing and distribution system for vaccines and drugs in developing countries. Net-zero energy describes a building with no net energy consumption and no carbon emissions measured on an annual basis.

In addition to Colton, immunization logistics consultant John Lloyd, architect Andrew Garnett and Solar Electric Light Fund project manager Steve McCarney will also contribute to the project.

The project was one of more than 100 Grand Challenges Explorations grants announced May 9, 2012.

“Grand Challenges Explorations encourages individuals worldwide to expand the pipeline of ideas where creative, unorthodox thinking is most urgently needed,” said Chris Wilson, director of Global Health Discovery and Translational Sciences at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  “We’re excited to provide additional funding for select grantees so that they can continue to advance their idea towards global impact.”

The goal of the Georgia Tech project is to develop the design and engineering specifications for a new, energy-optimized warehousing and distribution system for vaccines and drugs. In low- and middle-income countries, vaccines and drugs are often stored in older buildings that are inefficiently laid out and wasteful of energy. In these countries, warehousing and distribution costs can amount to 20 percent of drug and vaccine supply costs.

“We plan to demonstrate that energy-efficient, state-of-the-art warehousing systems can eliminate or greatly reduce the operational energy costs for storage and distribution of vaccines and drugs in developing countries with challenging climates,” said Colton.

According to Colton, to be successful the new warehousing system will need to:

  • Minimize environmental impact, energy consumption, and storage and transport costs;
  • Offset any grid electricity consumption;
  • Employ low-energy cooling techniques;
  • Accommodate a variety of building sizes and configurations; and
  • Be able to store vaccines, drugs and dry supplies at various controlled temperatures.

“Once we create the design and engineering specifications for this new warehousing and storage system, we plan to select an industry partner to build and test the system in a developing country such as Tunisia,” added Colton.

About Grand Challenges Explorations: Grand Challenges Explorations is a $100 million initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Launched in 2008, more than 600 people in 45 countries have received Grand Challenges Explorations grants. The grant program is open to anyone from any discipline and from any organization. The initiative uses an agile, accelerated grant-making process with short two-page online applications and no preliminary data required. Initial grants of $100,000 are awarded two times a year. Successful projects have the opportunity to receive a follow-on grant of up to $1 million.

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Writer: Abby Robinson