Active refrigeration or active temperature-controlled packaging is useful in warehouses and large stores. In transport and “last-mile” delivery, however, passive temperature-controlled packaging reigns supreme as the future of temperature-sensitive pharmaceutical products.

What is Passive Temperature-Controlled Packaging?

Unlike active devices, passive packaging requires no electrical connection to maintain cool temperatures. Their cooling power comes from certain solutions: frozen water-packs; phase-change materials (PCM); and advanced insulation technologies.

cold chain chest

Water-packs are one of the cooling systems that comes with any passive packaging. To use a water-pack, it must be frozen between -25°C to -10°C (-13°F to 14°F) for 24 hours. Anything less than that will only partially freeze the water-packs. Partially frozen water-packs can cool the products for only a very short time. After a whole day of freezing, water-packs need to be taken out to be conditioned – whereby they de-freeze to exactly 0°C. Otherwise, they may subject freeze-sensitive products to frozen temperatures.

Water packs

Phase change materials (PCMs) are a more advanced substitute for water-packs. PCMs are substances that absorb and release large amounts of so-called “latent heat” when they go through a change in their physical state, such as solid to liquid.

Phase Change Materials (PCMs)

Through this process, PCMs can cool and heat on their own without the need to be frozen in freezers or refrigerators. Unlike the heavier water-packs, PCMs, when placed in a passive container, enable a lighter load.

Both water-packs and PCMs are suitable devices for last-mile delivery, such as the transport of products to remote, impassable, and electricity-poor places.

Despite their passive cooling capabilities, no PCMs and water-packs can cool containers long enough without a means of insulation. Advanced insulations are important as they offset the loss of heat inside the packaging. Most passive containers developed today are equipped with advanced insulation of some sort to prolong the cold temperatures. Without them, the cooling provided by any coolant packs may be wasted.

So, these are what makes passive temperature-controlled packaging a better container for “last-mile” delivery and other levels of transport.

What is the future of these passive devices compared to their active counterparts? Do these technologies promise an increase in demand? Will we see more passive temperature-controlled packaging being developed in the coming years, or will they be replaced with other packaging solutions?

Advantages of Passive Temperature-Controlled Packaging

Active refrigeration, burdened with heavy mechanisms and the requirement of being connected to an electrical grid, may have mechanical risks inhibiting their use during transport. These issues and external forces have led to a surge of adopting passive temperature-controlled packaging over their active counterparts.

Temperature-controlled packaging

As the supply of increasingly temperature-sensitive pharmaceuticals grows each year, the demand for temperature-controlled packaging rises with it.

According to Future Market Insights, the ability of passive temperature-controlled packaging in minimizing product damages will propel the industry to greater heights.  The study forecast that this market will have a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 9% from 2017 to 2027. That’s why by 2027, global passive packaging technologies will be worth more than $18 billion.

The study detailed several factors driving the growth of passive packaging solutions. First, companies engaging in the cold chain business have been growing over the years. Since the cold chain business uses cold storage, the cold storage business too, is being improved for efficiency. Passive packaging is one of these developments.

Another factor for the increasing demand for passive cold storage is the unification of the global cold chain network. From India to China, and Indonesia to France, the cold chain network between developed and developing countries has resulted in increasing adoptions of both active and passive packaging technologies.

The latter is preferred over the former, because passive temperature-controlled packaging can hold the temperature within tighter limits than the active ones, mainly due to their more advanced insulation. Their reliance on PCMs or water-packs, and not on constant electricity, requires that their insulation coating be more advanced than in active technologies, where maintaining a constant electrical connection poses less of a problem.

Future Insights Market said that throughout the forecast period of 2020 to 2027, insulated containers are projected to remain the top-selling products in the global cold chain market.

The largest end-user of these passive temperature-controlled containers will be the food and beverage industry. This industry alone will drive the CAGR of passive containers to 8.6%.

Aside from the food and beverage industry, European regions will also demand more developed passive temperature-controlled packaging. Big pharmaceuticals in Europe, since they are developing and producing more biologically based substances, will be pressured to offer effective packaging for more temperature-sensitive biologics and biosimilars.

Other regions participating in the growth of passive packaging technologies include North America, especially the United States, home to the biggest pharmaceutical companies in the world, and the Asia-Pacific excluding Japan (APEJ) region, pertaining to the wide food supply chains within countries like China, India, and Australia.

How Biologics and Biosimilars are Fueling the Growth

Biologics or biosimilars are biologically-based products different from chemical-based drugs. Examples include vaccines, blood, blood components, cells, allergens, genes, tissues, and recombinant proteins. These products are more temperature-sensitive than chemical-based products. Their transport and delivery require stricter adherence to the cold chain requirements, and hence the need for better packaging systems.

Many biologics patents will expire by 2022. Because of that, many manufacturers are anticipated to flood the market with variegated biopharma and biosimilars. This influx of new sensitive biological products will further drive the growth of passive temperature-controlled packaging.

Many regulations on the handling and distribution of pharmaceuticals are being changed all over North America and Europe, where most of the products are manufactured. These changes will harmonize the manufacturing, processing, and distribution of temperature-sensitive pharmaceutical products.

Using passive temperature-controlled packaging to transport temperature-sensitive products provides flexibility of transportation and ease of handling. These passive systems can be used in any step of the cold chain. They prove to be most beneficial during last mile transport. The packages are lightweight and usually small in size. These factors contribute to why using passive devices can reduce damage associated with the transport of sensitive pharmaceuticals.

Reusability of Passive Packaging Technologies

Reusability comes with passive temperature-controlled technologies. It is also one key driver of the demand for passive devices. Some configurations in passive temperature-controlled packaging systems can provide reverse logistics capabilities. These abilities enable suppliers to reuse packaging solutions for product returns and redistribution.

The World Health Organization (WHO), the main authority over key regulations in cold chain products especially pharmaceuticals, has been trying to reduce environmental wastage across the globe.

Reusable containers incur less waste. They are engineered for repeated use for the distribution, transport, and storage of cold chain products. Because of environmental concerns, limited economic justification, and lack of governmental support for single-use units, there is an increase in the adoption of reusable packaging.

Roadblocks to Economical Success

One limiting factor to steady success is its cost. Since most passive cooling containers employ advanced technologies, one unit costs a lot more than other cooling containers. Therefore, they may not be an economical candidate for cheap cold chain products. Using them for inexpensive products can be an unnecessary expense of the company.

Because of their reusability, however, they are still a very good option in the long run. Using them several times, across all levels of the supply chain, will minimize further expenses while reducing spending on extra packages kept in reserved= in case of spoilage.


The way we deliver temperature-sensitive products has improved in many ways. The incapacities of previous packaging technologies have been superseded by new technologies to improve deliveries of that vital cold chain products to places where old packaging solutions could not reach.

With the goal of reaching even the farthest places, companies have developed several devices to address these problems. One of them is passive temperature-controlled packaging. As the technology develops even more as the years pass, the devices are becoming smarter, with the use of GPS trackers, temperature sensors, PCMs, advanced insulation capacity, and more to come.

Because of these advancements, we have saved millions of lives. We have delivered vaccines, blood components, organic drugs, cell tissues, fresh produce, and the like. As pharma products get more sophisticated to address complicated diseases, so does the need for better containers and packaging. The search and development for better packaging continues.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *