History of Ultra Low Temperature (ULT) Freezers

Ultra low temperature (ULT) freezers are vital to laboratory operations and storage spanning a range of industries, including health care and pharmaceuticals. They're also crucial in cold-chain logistics to preserve the integrity of products like fruits, vegetables and medications. Explore the origins of ULT freezers, what year they were invented and what's improved since then.

Who Invented the Freezers?

The earliest freezer technology debuted in the 11th century as a refrigerated coil invented by Persian scientist Ibn Sina, who used it for essential oil distillation. Centuries later, scientists worldwide improved on these beginnings, including the Scotsman William Cullen, who presented artificial refrigeration in the 1750s.

In 1876, German inventor Carl von Linde demonstrated a high-volume method for liquefying gas, one of the largest leaps forward in the technology as it exists today. His continued work in low-temperature systems helped form the foundation for modern ULT freezers.

How Have ULT Freezers Changed Over Time?

In 1922, Swedish students Carl Munters and Baltzar von Platen invented absorption refrigeration, a new method of using heat to generate refrigeration. Electrolux capitalized on the technology for large-scale production, which is still commonly used in recreational vehicle refrigerators and freezers today.

Another big change in ULT freezers occurred in 1931 when Electrolux debuted the L1, which relied on air to cool ammonia and eliminated the need for a water source. This allowed for units to become standalone appliances, and DuPont's increased freon production spurred market growth.

The 1940s saw the first separate freezers available, but production was sporadic due to World War II. By the 1960s and 1970s, companies had begun manufacturing dedicated ULT laboratory freezers.

Improvements to the technology continue to evolve and include:

  • Units capable of reaching temperatures as low as -152ºC.
  • Replacement of freon with non-ozone-depleting tetrafluoromethane. 
  • Vacuum-insulated configurations that allow for more internal storage.
  • Upright models for tabletop use or installation beneath the workbench.
  • Energy-saving options using alternative refrigerants.
  • Sophisticated cloud-based technology to achieve precise temperature control, monitor internal conditions and trigger exception alarms.
  • High-efficiency units with newer compressor and circulation designs.
  • Models featuring two compressors instead of traditional cascade refrigeration approaches.
  • Backup systems to preserve product integrity in a power failure.
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