News Release

Story tips: Cooler vaccine transport, bioenergy boost and radiation-resistant sensors

Peer-Reviewed Publication

DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Refrigeration — Cooling COVID-19 vaccines

image: ORNL researchers proved that COVID-19 vaccines can be kept ultra-cool for an extended period in a retrofitted commercial storage container, providing a resource for safe delivery to remote locations. view more 

Credit: ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

Refrigeration Cooling COVID-19 vaccines

Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers have retrofitted a commercial refrigeration container designed to ensure COVID-19 vaccines remain at ultra-low temperatures during long transport and while locally stored.

Most COVID vaccines, depending on the manufacturer, are stored at minus 70 or 30 degrees Celsius. Current transport methods use dry ice to maintain desired temperatures. However, longer travel times, particularly to remote locations without supportive infrastructure, require extended refrigeration.

In a study, researchers collaborated with Carrier and created a testbed using a lightweight aluminum container equipped with a refrigeration system, vaccine packages and optimal cargo layout and storage rack design that kept temperatures consistent and uniform throughout the container. Simulation studies demonstrated this method can hold required temperatures twice as long.

“We significantly increased the dry ice life, providing reliable temperature control and a safe, secure solution for cooling vaccines for transport and last mile storage,” ORNL’s Jian Sun said.

Media contact: Jennifer Burke, 865.414.6835,



Caption: ORNL researchers proved that COVID-19 vaccines can be kept ultra-cool for an extended period in a retrofitted commercial storage container, providing a resource for safe delivery to remote locations. Credit: ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy


Bioenergy – Data boost

A research team from Oak Ridge National Laboratory has identified and improved the usability of data that can help accelerate innovation for the growing bioeconomy.

Using the principles of FAIR data, the group has made information about a Florida biorefinery’s operation Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable. These data provide background for scientists, industry and other stakeholders about the scale up of biomass conversion processes — including valuable insights into what did and did not work at the plant, which has since closed.

“These data were just sitting on a shelf,” said ORNL’s Jessica Welch. “There are a lot of potentially useful data that haven’t been published for various reasons, and we’d like to make them accessible and easy to use for the bioenergy community.”

“Data fuel science and innovation,” she said. “It is important that we learn from past experiments.”

The group is seeking and publishing other underused industrially relevant data for further study.

Media contact: Kim Askey, 865.576.2841,


Caption: ORNL is making underused or inaccessible bioenergy data available to accelerate innovation for the bioeconomy. Credit: Andy Sproles/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy


Materials — Radiation-resistant sensors

To advance sensor technologies, Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers studied piezoelectric materials, which convert mechanical stress into electrical energy, to see how they could handle bombardment with energetic neutrons. This irradiation disturbs the position and behavior of atoms, which can affect the conversion of mechanical stresses into electricity.

Sensors made of piezoelectric materials could help guide the design of prototype nuclear reactors and monitor the health of aging reactors — if the materials can withstand extreme conditions.

The researchers investigated aluminum nitride doped with scandium. Compared to undoped material, doped material had a heightened piezoelectric response and improved resilience to irradiation damage.

“With theory and experiment, we improved our understanding of how damage is induced in sensors inside a nuclear reactor and how irradiation affects the piezoelectric properties,” said ORNL’s Eva Zarkadoula, who led the study.

Zarkadoula hopes the new knowledge advances tools to improve nuclear reactors, America’s largest source of carbon-free energy.

Media contact: Dawn Levy, 865.202.9465, 


Caption: ORNL’s Eva Zarkadoula seeks piezoelectric materials for sensors that can withstand irradiation, which causes cascading collisions that displace atoms and produces defects. Credit: Carlos Jones/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy 

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