Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from cold-chain shipments can affect aircraft environments

FedEx takes precautionary steps to manage CO2 outgassing in their newest B-777 aircraft

This is a problem that confronts air carriers of temperature-sensitive products, more than the manufacturers themselves, but pharma shippers will have to factor it into their logistics plans in certain circumstances nonetheless. Dry ice—frozen CO2—has been a traditional source of cold to keep temperature-sensitive products at specified temperature (usually, 2-8°C). According to Richard Smith, managing director of the Healthcare Solutions business unit at FedEx (Memphis), the latest generation of Boeing 700-series aircraft (with which FedEx is updating its air-cargo fleet) achieves its higher energy efficiencies, in part, through tight controls on the cabin environment. As a result, if a large shipment of temperature-sensitive pharmaceuticals are being conveyed, and those pharmaceuticals are cooled by dry ice packages, the cabin environment can be affected. There are numerous technical solutions: using phase-change materials or liquid nitrogen for refrigeration, or deploying battery-powered containers with battery-powered refrigeration units; or even limiting the quantity of CO2-containing packages in the shipment. But the upshot is that the quantity of CO2 onboard, and the rate at which it evaporates, needs to be factored into a flight.

Smith, speaking at the Opal Events Pharmaceutical Supply Chain Summit (Baltimore, June 6), also detailed a service that the company is now offering for shipment of controlled room-temperature (CRT) drugs (usually, 15-30°C). Numerous shippers are now deploying engineered thermal blankets around pallets of drug, to protect the shipment from extreme high or low temperatures. Many times, the blanket is considered a disposable item at the end of the shipment. But, by offering blankets FedEx has purchased essentially as a rental service to shippers, and recycling the blankets for new shipments, FedEx can lower the overall shipping expense. FedEx uses blankets from Amsafe, Inc. (Phoenix); Smith says that they have proved especially popular for shipment runs from India to the US.