Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

In Africa, infectious diseases are the leading cause of death and disability in infants. A large number of these deaths can be prevented through effective vaccination.

However, vaccines remain in a "potent" state only when stored at temperatures between 2°C and 8°C. The effective transport of vaccines to remote parts of Africa where electricity is not available is a huge challenge.

This problem was recognised by the engineering faculty of North-West University, Potchefstroom.

Its solution was the design of a portable solar vaccine carrier. It is completely self-sustaining, requiring no additional source of electricity.

Using design software SolidWorks, the researchers simulated various topologies for the cooling holder.

The most efficient design was selected, which allows the cooling holder to store the vaccines at 5°C at the realistically high ambient temperature of 30°C with the lowest power requirement.

To charge the batteries during the day and provide power to the cooling unit, five 130W photovoltaic panels are used to provide 650W of power.

The system will provide power continuously for five days without any sun or recharging.

A prototype cooling holder was built based on the design.

According to Prof Rupert Gouws, the project is showing a lot of promise. The department is improving the system and the unit will hopefully go into production, saving the lives of thousands of people.

The faculty of engineering aims to develop students into the best problem-solvers they can be through practical, relevant and hands-on courses.

The faculty has 1,351 students and 66 lecturers and offers seven fields of study including chemical engineering, electrical and electronic engineering, mechanical and nuclear engineering, and industrial engineering.

There are 14 research groups and a number of commercialised entities in the faculty. All its programmes are accredited by the Engineering Council of SA under the Washington Accord, which means its engineering qualifications are accepted in all 17 countries that are part of the accord. These include the US, Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand, China, India, Japan and Russia.

The faculty keeps a focus on industry relevance. Economies grow on the back of innovations. The best researchers and all the knowledge in the world means little if that knowledge is not put into practice where the significance of its social impact can be experienced and measured.

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