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Cold Chain Summit: Next-gen refrigerated boxes for air cargo

Envirotainer has a large logistics operation to manage its leased container fleet used for pharmaceutical shipments

This fireside chat recap is from FreightWaves’ Cold Chain Summit on Wednesday.

FIRESIDE CHAT TOPIC: Controlling temperature for pharmaceutical shipments in air cargo

DETAILS: Temperature-sensitive goods such as pharmaceuticals require special handling during transportation, as well as coolers or refrigerated containers. The equipment maintains a constant temperature and humidity during transit. The air cargo environment is especially challenging because there are multiple handoffs between parties, and during flight no one can intervene to adjust the temperature if the contents get too warm or cold. 

Envirotainer was one of the first companies to develop insulated boxes with dry ice capabilities and now is releasing its newest-generation active container that can provide battery-powered refrigeration, with heating and cooling, and remote telematics for up to 10 days without intervention. About 20 airlines have approved the use of the Releye container with integrated shipment monitoring. Envirotainer leases the containers to airlines and forwarders.

SPEAKER: Donald Harrison, head of global key accounts for airlines and pharma at Envirotainer

BIO: Harrison has worked at Envirotainer for 11 years. Before stepping up to manage global sales in May 2019, he was a sales manager for the Americas. Before that he worked for nearly six years at United Airlines developing cargo products.


“Dry ice units [have been heavily utilized to ship COVID vaccines] because of the low temperatures needed. They are actually quite simple. You’ve got dry ice, D cell batteries like you use in your flashlight and a fan that circulates air. So it’s a fairly simple container to utilize. And that’s why many customers still use it today. It’s probably still half of our business. [People go to refrigerated containers for] a lot of different reasons. It could be quality requirements, it could be complexity of the trade lane, it could be value of product, it could just be to have that little bit of that extra insurance in autonomy or insulating capabilities.”

“We’re a logistics company in that we have to make sure that our units are in the right place at the right time to meet demand. We have a global logistics department with people who are dedicated to playing the chess game and moving those units around the world. It’s done in multiple ways: through network leases which means you pick it up at Point A and return it at Point B, and then we have demand to bring that unit back; it’s also done through support from our airline partners utilizing empty capacity; it’s done via ocean freight, via road feeder service. We have the largest number of network lease options available of any active package supplier, so you can get pretty much anywhere in the world on a network lease and just leave it there in most cases.”

“We’ve transported since January of this year about 450 million does of COVID vaccine in our containers, together with our airline partners. Airfreight is going to continue to provide the majority of the transportation for COVID vaccines, COVID treatments, testing and diagnostic kits. That’s happening around the world. And now as other countries start to receive donations from places like Europe and the U.S., we’re transporting that as well, to the smaller markets throughout the world that really need it.”

Eric Kulisch

Eric is the Supply Chain and Air Cargo Editor at FreightWaves. An award-winning business journalist with extensive experience covering the logistics sector, Eric spent nearly two years as the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Automotive News, where he focused on regulatory and policy issues surrounding autonomous vehicles, mobility, fuel economy and safety. He has won two regional Gold Medals from the American Society of Business Publication Editors for government coverage and news analysis, and was voted best for feature writing and commentary in the Trade/Newsletter category by the D.C. Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. As associate editor at American Shipper Magazine for more than a decade, he wrote about trade, freight transportation and supply chains. Eric is based in Portland, Oregon. He can be reached for comments and tips at [email protected]