Cold shipping could be the next industry that batteries will disrupt

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Hannah Seeber knows how transformative batteries can be. At her previous startup, EcoFlow, she used them in place of generators, whether it was to power homes after a severe storm or RVs at a campsite. The experience got her thinking about what else batteries could do, especially small batteries.

She recalled thinking at the time, “What other industries are there that could change so dramatically?”

This dawned on her after she left EcoFlow, and while studying at Stanford. She was researching how power cuts in California, meant to limit the risk of wildfires, have disproportionate effects on different people.

He noticed that power distribution companies in wealthier communities were spending more on generators and microgrids, leaving smaller, poorer communities in a bind. “I saw what happens during a 56-hour shutoff if you’re a small business and you lose power to your refrigerator and suddenly you have to buy more stuff,” he told TechCrunch. “It was kind of an ‘ah ha’ moment.”

Seeber began to dig deeper into refrigeration, looking for places where battery-powered cooling could make a difference. He focused on shipping after reading about its impact on the climate.

He said he asked himself, “Can we electrify the cold chain?” “And what would battery-powered shipping look like?”

Seeber’s latest startup, Artic, is the answer to that question. The company has quietly raised $14 million so far, according to PitchBook, and one of its products, the Medsto Micro, is in the market to help hospitals, diagnostic tests, and medical labs ship temperature-sensitive samples.

The device is a white plastic cube, small enough to hold with one hand. Open the lid, and up to four vials can be placed inside. On the outside, there’s a USB-C port for charging a lithium-ion battery that powers a solid-state heat pump, which provides cooling or heating depending on outside conditions. The cube can keep samples at 3 degrees Celsius (37.4 degrees Fahrenheit) for at least 56 hours. Thermometers, accelerometers, and GPS keep track of the package, and a cellular connection lets customers keep track of its precious cargo.

Artic rents these boxes to its customers, and since one of its boxes can replace both tracking hardware and disposable ice packs or dry ice, Seeber said they break down after about four shipments. Plus, since the boxes are reusable, their carbon footprint improves over competing methods after just two shipments, he said.

One of Seeber’s goals with Medsto Micro is to increase patient access to clinical trials. Currently, most trials are conducted at large hospitals in major metropolitan areas. As a result, many people who may be eligible are excluded, which not only harms patients, who miss out on potentially life-changing treatments, but also harms the field of medicine, because trials that include a greater diversity of patients lead to new therapies that benefit more people.

Artic’s next product will be five liters, and it will likely target expensive, temperature-sensitive foods like herbs, chocolate and wine. Then in 2025, the startup plans to ship its 25-liter size. “For a lot of our customers, it’s really about what they can’t ship today that they want to be able to ship,” Seeber said.

Other uses are emerging, he said. Hospitals and clinical labs have said they are considering using Artic’s boxes for additional, blackout-proof storage or as mobile refrigerators to make rounds easier. “Imagine a world where you have this on site, and a mobile phlebotomist grabs it, does rounds throughout the day and brings it back,” he said.

Seeber is also looking beyond healthcare in developed countries like the US. “We’ve had some great conversations with some global health organizations,” she said. Right now, the team is trying to figure out how to guarantee the temperature of the material in emergency situations.

“If you’re trying to reach a rural community and the road quality isn’t what you expect and there are delays, how can you create a buffer?” he said. Still, he’s optimistic. “We think it’s easier to find a source of outlets than dry ice.”

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