Cryologistics: Science's Carbon-Intensive Secret - Atelerix

Cryologistics: Science's Carbon-Intensive Secret

In the pursuit of ground-breaking discoveries and life-changing innovations, the scientific community has long relied on a crucial yet often overlooked aspect of research: the preservation and transportation of sensitive biological materials. Cryopreservation, the process of freezing and storing cells, tissues, and other biological samples at ultra-low temperatures, has become a cornerstone of modern science, enabling researchers to maintain sample integrity and facilitate collaboration across vast distances. 

However, this reliance on cryopreservation comes with a significant environmental cost – one that has been largely overlooked or brushed aside as an unavoidable necessity. The cold supply chain required to support cryologistics is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and a significant drain on energy resources.

The Hidden Carbon Footprint

From the energy-intensive freezers used in laboratories to the refrigerated trucks and aircraft employed for long-distance transportation, the cryologistics industry leaves a substantial carbon footprint. A lab-grade freezer consumes approximately 8.5 kilowatt hours (kWh) per day of electricity, which is about as much energy as an average family household uses per day." Angelo and Gumapas, 2013. According to a recent study by the International Institute of Refrigeration, the cold chain accounts for approximately 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions, a figure that is expected to rise as demand for temperature-controlled logistics continues to grow.

Moreover, the use of dry ice – a common coolant in cryologistics – poses additional environmental concerns. The production and transportation of dry ice contribute to further emissions, while its improper disposal can lead to the release of carbon dioxide, potentially exacerbating the very issue it was intended to mitigate.

A Call for Sustainable Solutions

As the scientific community grapples with the urgent need to address climate change and promote sustainable practices, it is imperative that we reevaluate our reliance on traditional cryologistics methods. While cryopreservation has undoubtedly played a crucial role in advancing scientific research, its environmental impact can no longer be ignored. 

Fortunately, innovative solutions are emerging that offer a viable and sustainable alternative to the carbon-intensive cold supply chain. One such solution is hypothermic preservation, a cutting-edge technology that enables the storage and transportation of biological materials at ambient temperatures, eliminating the need for energy-intensive freezers and cryologistics

Companies like Atelerix, a pioneering force in the field of hypothermic preservation, are leading the charge in developing sustainable biopreservation solutions. By leveraging nature's own mechanisms for preserving life, Atelerix's technology offers a game-changing approach that not only reduces the carbon footprint of scientific research but also streamlines workflows and enhances sample integrity.

Styrofoam compounds matters further

The widespread use of expanded polystyrene (EPS), commonly known as Styrofoam, in dry ice shipments poses a significant environmental challenge. This non-biodegradable material is extensively employed in cryologistics due to its excellent insulative properties, but its environmental impact is substantial. EPS is difficult to recycle and often ends up in landfills, where it can persist for hundreds of years. Despite some misconceptions, EPS is technically recyclable, but the infrastructure for recycling it is not widely available, leading to low recycling rates. 

The sheer volume of EPS used in cold chain shipping, particularly for products requiring dry ice temperatures, contributes significantly to plastic waste accumulation. This issue is compounded by the fact that many shipments involve oversized packaging, with small items often packed in disproportionately large EPS containers. As awareness of this problem grows, some companies are exploring alternatives, such as recyclable cardboard-based solutions or straw packaging, to reduce their reliance on EPS and minimise the environmental footprint of cryologistics.

A Worked Example


To illustrate the carbon footprint of traditional cryologistics, let's consider a worked example of shipping stromal fibroblast cells from the United States to Europe:

A typical shipment of cryopreserved stromal fibroblast cells requires dry ice for temperature maintenance during transportation. Assuming a payload of 10 cryovials, approximately 20kg of dry ice would be needed for proper insulation and cooling.

The production of 20 kg of dry ice results in the emission of approximately 36.8kg of CO2 equivalents (CO2e). This accounts for the energy used in the liquefaction and solidification process of CO2 to produce dry ice.

For transcontinental air freight from the U.S. to Europe, the emissions factor is around 1 kg CO2e per ton-km. With a typical air freight distance of 6,000 km and a total shipment weight of 12kg (including packaging), the emissions from transportation alone would be approximately 36kg CO2e.

In total, this single shipment of cryopreserved stromal fibroblast cells would contribute around 72.8kg CO2e to the carbon footprint, primarily from the production of dry ice and air freight emissions.

This example highlights the significant environmental impact of even a modest cryopreserved shipment. As the demand for temperature-controlled logistics continues to grow, the cumulative carbon footprint of cryologistics becomes increasingly concerning...

Based on industry guidelines for dry ice requirements for cryoshipments.

Dry Ice Production CO2 Footprint:
Air Freight Emissions Factors:
Total emissions calculated as the sum of dry ice production (18.4 kg CO2e) and air freight transportation (6,000 km * 12 kg * 0.5 kg CO2e/ton-km = 36 kg CO2e).

A Sustainable Future for Science

As scientists, we have a responsibility to not only advance knowledge and push the boundaries of discovery but also to do so in a manner that is environmentally responsible and sustainable. By embracing innovative solutions like hypothermic preservation, we can significantly reduce the carbon footprint of our research endeavours while maintaining the highest standards of scientific excellence. 

The time has come to shed light on the hidden environmental cost of cryologistics and actively seek out sustainable alternatives. By doing so, we can ensure that the pursuit of scientific progress does not come at the expense of our planet's well-being, paving the way for a future where ground-breaking discoveries and environmental stewardship go hand in hand. So if we want the Earth's temperature to stop spiking, it's time to switch to a viable alternative to cryologistics (see what we did there).

Want to know more about alternative cryopreservation and transportation solutions?

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