Cryotanks are sophisticated vessels used to store biological materials at unearthly cold temperatures. They’re a key feature in many clinical and molecular biology labs that preserve samples for later analysis.
While cryotanks are commonplace, their use is not without several associated risks. In fact, such risks can include explosions, chemical leaks and even user asphyxiation.
This guide highlights how lab monitoring systems can help mitigate cryotank usage risk. It outlines simple, protective measures that can keep lab members and precious samples safe.
Download this guide to learn more about:
• Cryotank applications in a variety of laboratory settings
• Common risks informed by real-world incidents
• Protective measures for cryotank safety
Cryogenic tanks, or cryotanks, are storage systems used to store frozen biological materials and
offer a number of unique benefits. At XiltriX, we offer lab monitoring services to help ensure cryotanks and supporting systems are running at maximum efficiency and with complete safety.
Cryogenic tanks, or cryotanks, have myriad uses, and even more perceived uses. Ask the layperson, and they’ll say something
along the lines of, “Cryotanks… those are the things where you can freeze your head or body until the next century, right?” And…
well… yes, right. And they can also be used to store rocket fuel and a wide range of other materials.
However, for most modern clinical labs, cryotanks are storage systems used to store frozen biological materials that need to be
kept at literally unearthly cold temperatures. Cryotanks are incredibly sophisticated storage vessels. The basic structure of a cryo
tank consists of two shells, an inner shell and an outer shell. The inner shell (usually made of stainless steel) is the product/
materials container and the outer shell (usually made from carbon steel) is the vacuum jacket. Air is removed from the space
between the two shells to create a vacuum, which helps provide extraordinary thermal insulation.
Even with this seemingly simple construction, there’s much that can go wrong, and when it does, the costs can be astronomical
and the materials damaged irreplaceable. We’re going to explore a few means of mitigating risk in and around cryotank usage for
the modern lab, and help ensure best practices are in place across the board and within the tanks.
HOW TO MITIGATE RISKS
IN YOUR CRYOTANK STORAGE
CRYOTANK USE, CROSS-INDUSTRY
Like NASA needs rocket fuel, many companies across many industries require cryogenically stored gases for a wide range of
industrial applications (perhaps their most common use). But in life sciences and clinical labs, cryogenic tanks are often used for
the storage of samples such as embryos and oocytes for fertility clinics.
For some industries, cryotanks serve as a cost-saving replacement to bulkier, and less-effective, means of storage, such as fuel
transport. For those use cases, one cryotank can replace hundreds of storage cylinders.
Naturally, not all materials — biological or otherwise — require the robustness of a cryotank for storage, and the tanks are typically
used when materials must be stored over longer periods of time (i.e., when materials need to be put into a literal “deep freeze”).
RISKS IN AND AROUND CRYOTANK STORAGE
As with most heavy-duty lab equipment, there are more than a few risks
involved in using cryotanks, and ensuring you’re monitoring each individual
tank is critical.
In general, severe frostbite or cryogenic burns are possible if cryogenic liquids
come into contact with the skin. A rarity, but it can happen. Also, cryogenic
liquids can cause major damage if they come into contact with other
equipment or the infrastructure of a laboratory, such as pipes, lab benches,
More common is the risk of asphyxiation, if LN is used or released in a
poorly ventilated area. Liquid nitrogen can rapidly evolve into nitrogen gas,
and the gas can then displace the oxygen in a room, leading to asphyxiation.
Finally (though a rarity in the lab world), cryostorage can pose an explosion
risk due to rapid pressure changes that can occur within cryogenically
stored liquefied gas. Cryogenic tanks are usually fitted with pressure release
valves (which can and should be monitored), so if pressure does begin to
build up inside them, it can be released gradually and safely in a controlled
CRYOTANK EXPLOSION: THE RISK REALIZED IN A TEXAS LAB
Cryotanks exploding is not theoretical. A widely circulated accident report following an explosion involving one of these tanks highlighted a number of serious errors that any lab should be on the lookout for.
First, the tank in question was old — these tanks have a shelf life, and once they reach a certain age they need to be replaced. The
pressure release valves on the tank in question had failed in the past, and instead of being replaced with new valves, the tank was
simply sealed with metal plates.
One January morning, 3:00 am, with no one on site to monitor, the pressure in the tank started spiking. With no properly functioning
pressure release valves, pressure built up — naturally — until the tank exploded and shot upwards like a rocket.
It passed through the floors above it, finally coming to rest on the third floor of the building. The explosion stripped tiles off the lab
floor. The tank smashed into water mains and electrical cables, cracking concrete ceilings, and more. The damage was massive.
The bright side was the timing. If this incident had taken place during the day, more than just pipes and ceilings would have been
damaged. Better, if these tanks had been properly monitored and risk-assessed, this incident could have been entirely avoided.
“Measure LN Level Through
Learn how to
PROTECTIVE MEASURES FOR CRYOTANK SAFETY
Explosions. Leaks. Asphyxiation. While these sound like major, major risks, the good news is that you can most always entirely
avoid these lab disasters simply by being proactive. Here are a few things clinical lab managers can do to protect their facility,
equipment, and people.
First, training. Ensure that all personnel who use and come in contact with cryogenic tanks and liquids, perform processes that
involve the use of cryogenic tanks, or interact with any samples stored in them, have been trained in the specifics of handling the
tanks and ancillary equipment. Safety precautions should be taken at all times, and appropriate protective gear should be worn,
such as goggles, helmets, gloves, and overalls.
Next, maintenance. All equipment — such as the tanks themselves, their safety valves and connectors, and any pipework or
instruments used for cryogenic processes — must be maintained to the highest standard, and replaced regularly according to a
planned maintenance schedule (typically available through the tank provider). If any signs of damage or wear and tear are noticed,
damaged components must be replaced immediately.
More specific to biotech and IVF businesses, where eggs and embryos are often stored using liquid nitrogen, systems must be
implemented to protect against nitrogen levels dropping too low in the cryotanks, endangering the samples stored therein. Daily
tank inspections, alarm systems that send alerts when levels are low, or systems that automatically replenish the cryotanks to
appropriate levels are a few tactics often employed.
In the end, mitigating risk in cryotank storage systems comes down to awareness, and that means 24/7/365 monitoring of cryotank functionality and temperatures. Material temperature fluctuations can quickly, even immediately, result in damage at a
chromosomal level, tissue sample destruction, cell cultures developing ice crystals… and knowing about any temperature change
as soon as it happens can help create far better outcomes.
HOW XILTRIX HELPS MITIGATE CRYOTANK STORAGE RISKS
A state-of-the-art laboratory monitoring service is critical. Through realtime monitoring of temperatures and pressures inside cryotanks and
other storage tanks, XiltriX provides both peace of mind and leads to a
plan of action.
If the temperature in a cryotank begins to increase, XiltriX can
immediately alert appropriate staff. XiltriX leverages real-time data from
temperature outputs, and other parameters relating to cryogenic storage
• produce automated reports to help your laboratory adhere to
• receive immediate alerts to potentially dangerous changes in LN
level, pressure, or ambient O concentrations;
• improve quality control and assurance; and
• simplify the audit process.
Cryotanks are becoming more and more critical in the modern lab. Learn more about them, and other cold storage
solutions, in our eBook, Lab Equipment Monitoring - the Ultimate Guide.
Brought to you by
Download your How To Guide for FREE now!
Information you provide will be shared with the sponsors for this content. Technology Networks or its sponsors may contact you to offer you content or products based on your interest in this topic. You may opt-out at any time.