Why is dry ice used in shipping?
In many ways, dry ice is the ideal coolant used to keep shipments frozen. Dry ice is readily available, inexpensive, and maintains a frozen temperature for a long time. It also sublimates into a gas instead of melting into a liquid, like water ice, which would damage a shipment.
Dry ice is solid carbon dioxide (CO2) and because of its extremely low temperature can be dangerous if not handled correctly. Dry ice can burn skin if touched, the gas vapor can explode if not allowed to vent or worse yet if too much dry ice is on a plane it can cause pilots to become dizzy or unconscious due to increased CO2 in the air. Because of this there are very specific regulations around shipping with dry ice.
How to ship using dry ice
There are three steps to shipping with dry ice, no matter what method of shipping you use.
- First you need to get dry ice, which is readily available at local dry ice suppliers and even some grocery or big box stores.
For our clients, Mercury couriers can bring dry ice to any location that you need it, whether your lab, office or a clinical site.
- Next, pack your contents into a thermal container. There are a variety of containers that can be used for shipping with dry ice from a simple Styrofoam box to a vacuum insulated panel thermal shipper. Depending on the specifics of your shipment, choose the box that is right for you.
For our clients, Mercury works with the best validated thermal shipper manufacturers to provide you with the boxes that are best for your specific shipment as well as temperature monitors and GPS trackers if you need them. Wherever you need a thermal shipper delivered, our team can provide them along with the dry ice.
- Follow the regulations. Read our article here about the specific regulations for shipping with dry ice, including how to label the boxes with a UN1845 label.
Can dry ice be replenished while in transit?
Depending on how you ship dry ice can be replenished while in transit in case of a carrier issue or customs delay. When shipping with the express carriers, sometimes they are and sometimes they are not able to replenish the dry ice. If the express carrier is able to access the box and has dry ice on hand they are sometimes able to replenish it. This varies based on the facility that your shipment is at and its specific location within that facility.
When shipping through a specialty cold chain service, dry ice can be replenished while in transit. These shipments go through the commercial airlines, allowing the shipment to be accessed and dry ice replenished. Particularly with international shipments, where the risk of customs delay is high this is critical to maintaining the temperature range of your shipment.
When to use express carriers, a same day courier or specialty cold chain
As a general rule, you should consider how critical your shipment is to select the best shipping method. For high value, critical shipments that might be irreplaceable using a specialty cold chain service or same day courier. More routine, low value dry ice shipments are often sent using the express carriers, particularly if they're domestic.
Below is a general, guide but you should consult an expert with any questions.