Ohio University

Athens County-based Stirling Ultracold attracts national attention for boosting global distribution of potential COVID-19 vaccines

Published: November 10, 2020 Author: Staff reports

Ohio University-supported Stirling Ultracold is earning national attention for its novel ultra-low temperature (ULT) freezers, which can supply the minus 80-degree Celsius storage environment that may be necessary for the upcoming COVID-19 vaccines.

Recently featured in both the New York Times and Columbus Business First, Stirling Ultracold’s ULT freezers will offer companies who research, manufacture, transport and store the potential vaccine with unique storage capability. The freezers are more compact, use 70-75% less energy, and have the largest storage capacity of floor space compared to traditional compressor-based ULT freezers.

“It appears that the widespread delivery of many COVID-19 vaccine candidates will require volumes of freezer units at multiple ultra-low temperatures and even more for smaller units where we have a unique position in the industry,” Neill Lane, Stirling Ultracold’s chief strategy officer, said. “It is great news for the company, our employees and the wider community. Our employees and products can help solve one of the many complicated challenges in getting the COVID-19 virus under control.”

As excerpted from the Sept. 18 New York Times article, How to Ship a Vaccine at –80°C, and Other Obstacles in the Covid Fight:

The Covid-19 vaccination effort is likely to dwarf all previous campaigns.

UPS said it was constructing a so-called freezer farm in Louisville, Ky., the company’s largest hub, where it can store millions of doses at subzero temperatures.

Creating an entire warehouse that could maintain that deep freeze would have been too complex and costly. So instead, rows of upright industrial Stirling Ultracold freezers, each capable of holding 48,000 vials, are being arranged inside a warehouse. There are 70 freezers so far, but the warehouse could fit a few hundred. A similar UPS center is in the works in the Netherlands.

“I haven’t seen anything like this before,” said Wes Wheeler, UPS’s head of health care. “Nothing has been quite this global in scale.” - New York Times

COVID-19 vaccine storage presents a new market opportunity for Stirling Ultracold, a subsidiary of Global Cooling, Inc. and a TechGROWTH Ohio portfolio company. ABC News, NBC News and Reuters have all highlighted the importance of ultra-cold freezers after Pfizer announced progress on a potential vaccine. Stirling Ultracold CEO Dusty Tenney told USA Today this month that sales are up 250 percent since the first quarter, and also conducted an extensive interview with Fox Business.

According to an excerpt from the Sept. 16 Columbus Business First article:

“We help to facilitate their ability to get that (cold storage) infrastructure all over the world,” CEO Dusty Tenney said. “They don’t have to do anything different with our equipment.”

That means customers through the "complete chain" – supplier, manufacturer, transporter, to pharmacies and clinics administering shots, Tenney said.

An emerging, world-class manufacturer of ULT freezers based in Athens County, Stirling Ultracold has helped to build the local economy of Southeastern Ohio, with 130 employees located mostly in the region.

TechGROWTH Ohio, a program of Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, was the lead investor in Stirling Ultracold’s first round of financing. The subsequent growth and successful later rounds of financing can also be attributed to the financial and operational support from TechGROWTH Ohio, as well as the Ohio Innovation Fund.

“As an early and ongoing investor in Stirling Ultracold, we are proud that this company’s innovation will contribute to mitigating the COVID-19 pandemic not just in southeastern Ohio, but globally,” Ohio University President M. Duane Nellis said. “They are an outstanding example of how TechGROWTH launches and grows companies to expand regional economic development.”

Lane notes that both the Voinovich School and TechGROWTH have provided critical assistance in building the company’s ULT freezer business over the years.

“Perhaps the clearest example: The cooling engines in the freezers you see at the UPS facility were developed using state funds that the Voinovich School helped us secure,” Lane said. “TechGROWTH’s participation in multiple funding rounds after leading our first round, as well as its board participation, has been essential to our growth.”

As Ohio Third Frontier’s regional entrepreneurial service provider, TechGROWTH Ohio provides technology start-up companies in the 19-county Southeast Ohio area access to business assistance and sources of capital. More than 2,200 area start-ups and entrepreneurs, including Stirling Ultracold, have generated over $622 million in additional local economic activity with TechGROWTH Ohio’s support.

“By leveraging investment made by the state of Ohio, along with Ohio University resources, Voinovich School programs have generated more than $3 billion in economic impact since 2014,” Voinovich School Dean Mark Weinberg said. “This is a great example of the importance of supporting innovation and entrepreneurship, not just to help the region, but also the potential to impact the world.”