New technology, data monitoring and GWP are under the microscope for reefer manufacturers
The global cold chain market is set to be worth a huge US$293.2Bn with annual growth of 7.6% by the end of 2023 according to a report from Markets and Markets.
It highlighted the growth in international trade of perishable foods, and an increase in consumer demand for perishable foods as the key causes for the market increase.
To support this fast-growing trend, the global supply chain must continue to develop, said Daikin reefer container department general manager Ah Huat Goh.
“As consumers’ awareness of the benefits of healthier lifestyles, clean eating and ‘superfoods’ increases on a global basis, so too does the appetite and demand for fresh produce,” commented Mr Goh, explaining this has been driven not only through increased understanding, but also changes in disposable income, enabling a willingness to pay more for higher quality, healthy foods.
“The enormous purchasing power of China’s rising middle class alone is having a significant impact on global food trends, all of which is underpinned by advances in cargo care and reefer technology,” he continued, adding it “stands to reason” that to facilitate this expanding global trade, the global supply chain must continue to develop. He pointed out that refrigerated storage capabilities in Asia has grown, as has the refrigerated transport industry across North America and Europe, as the technology in refrigerated vans, trailers and reefer containers advances.
The required cold chain infrastructure is becoming a priority at the point of origin as well as destination, enabling shippers who previously did not have the means to transport their products across long distances due to high rates of spoilage in the first mile to enter the market. But Mr Goh pointed out, it is not only improvements in the early stages of transportation that is opening up new markets and opportunities for growers.
Active CA combats ageing
The supply of high quality fruit and vegetables at affordable prices across long distances relies upon reliable reefer technology. “Active controlled atmosphere (CA) technology slows down the ageing process that food and other sensitive perishable products undergo during transit. This allows them to be transported in better condition for longer periods of time and extends their shelf life,” said Mr Goh. He said that by manipulating ripening rates through self-generated nitrogen at the start of the shipping process, active controlled atmosphere can greatly extend the post-harvest life of some perishables.
Daikin’s new Active CA technology was launched last year. “In addition to high respiring cargo, with Active CA, it is now possible to transport products that are generally considered difficult to transport under passive CA, due to their low respiration rates,” said Mr Goh. By reducing the oxygen level without relying on cargo respiration, Active CA can be used “regardless of voyage length and to transport the broadest spectrum of cargo; from leafy vegetables, blueberries, cherries and lychees with a low respiration rate, to produce with a high respiration rate, such as avocados, bananas, and cut flowers”.
He added “Conventional passive CA relies on respiration, so it’s crucial to wait for the cargo to respirate to adjust the level of oxygen; Daikin’s Active CA, however, removes the need to wait.”
Passive controlled atmosphere reduces oxygen density through cargo respiration or by nitrogen gas flushing that was produced separately. Instead, Daikin Active CA produces nitrogen-rich gas with inbuilt equipment and supplies it into the reefer container to reduce oxygen density. “This achieves the CA set point in half of the time of conventional passive CA meaning it is now also viable for shorter voyages, such as intra-Asia and other regional trades,” Mr Goh said.
Mitsubishi’s MAXtend has been developing its CA solutions. MAXtend division head and director Sanjay Savur told Container Shipping & Trade that all of it CA solutions are offered to container shipping companies as a complete service. This way the lines are assured of a single-point responsibility. MAXtend’s service also includes advice on suitability of CA for new kinds of cargo which may not have been previously transported by sea over long distances.
Mr Savur said “By enabling safe transportation by sea our CA solution helps shipping lines by opening up a wider range of cargo to them and their customers.”
Over the last few years the company has added remote data monitoring capability using its 3G Global Modem and has rolled this out to all shipments. “We can now monitor all cargo shipped using our MAXtend CA solution at critical points during the voyage,” Mr Savur explained. The data is automatically scanned using specially developed software, and MAXtend receives alerts when potential problems are detected. “In this way we can take corrective action to prevent cargo damage. This added data monitoring capability has enabled us to offer a value-added service to our customers,” he summed up.
Indeed, he highlighted that data monitoring was a growing trend within the reefer sector. “Data monitoring is definitely something our customers are showing interest in.” To this end, the company is developing new tools to measure cargo quality during a voyage and has begun sharing this data ‘live’ with a few selected customers. The company intends to offer this to all its customers in future. “It will help them make informed decisions about how long they could store the produce after arrival at destination. It will also help them understand precisely what factors contribute to changes in cargo quality,” Mr Savur said.
This year the company will be launching a new development to its MAXtend system with the introduction of a new CO2 removal system using membrane technology. “This will enable us to replace our disposable CO2 scrubbers (absorbers) with a more eco-friendly reusable system,” Mr Savur said.
Thermo King has also noted an automation trend within the reefer sector and has been applying this technology to its reefers to boost energy efficiency and cut costs. Last November, the company launched an energy data logging system to allow customers to measure how much energy their reefers are using. Marine commercial leader Michel Gadron said “We do not want to hide what energy a unit is consuming and as a side effect some of the inland terminals and depots charge a fixed amount to customers in terms of energy consumption. The logging system means our customers can counter invoices and use this data as a basis for negotiations.”
Cutting down PTI
Last year Thermo King launched an auto check feature for customers called Smart PTI that is carried out when reefers are on voyage. The reefer unit runs algorithm tests and produces data that is sent to the overall vessel automation system, which consolidates all the data to see what is happening within the reefer fleet. It optimizes fleet operations and offerings leading to cost savings for operators but also helps operators measure their CO2 footprint, improve service and maintenance schedules leading to improved unit performance and preventative maintenance.
Mr Gadron said “If something unexpected happens on the voyage, corrective maintenance can be carried out, rather than running behind and waiting until a unit comes in on the land side. This is much more proactive than previously and saves costs - that is the bottom line of it.”
Last November, Thermo King launched an energy data logging system, which is standard on all units, to allow customers to measure how much energy their reefers are using. Mr Gadron said “We do not want to hide what a unit is consuming in terms of energy. Some inland terminals and depots charge a fixed amount to customers in terms of energy consumption. The logging system means that our customers can counter invoices and use this data as a basis for negotiations.”
Reducing pretrip inspections is also important for Carrier Transicold. It launched TripWise at the end of last year. This software automatically monitors unit performance during voyages, reducing the need for manually activated pretrip. “This saves time and energy and improves operations efficiency,” pointed out Carrier Transicold global container refrigeration director of marketing Willy Yeo.
While the refrigeration system is in use, the software monitors the operation of fan motors, sensors, the compressor and valves to see if the unit is running within normal parameters. Before putting units into service again, operators conducting visual inspections of refrigerated containers can press the pretrip button on the controller keypad. The TripWise software will indicate either pass or check.
Mr Yeo said “The alternative of conducting manual PTIs when the units are in port can require several hours of run time, consuming energy and tying up service personnel and equipment.” As an example, for a fleet with 10,000 refrigerated containers making four turns per year, conducting manual PTIs at US$50 per unit, per turn adds US$2M in annual expense. So, the savings from using TripWise software can be significant.
GWP refrigerants gain momentum
Thermo King has traditionally used the R-404A refrigerant in marine reefers but in 2016 it also started offering the option of using R-452A, a lower global warming potential (GWP) alternative that can be implemented on new and existing units without the need to change any components or settings – this so-called drop-in possibility is unique in the market. According to Gadron, the other benefit of using R-452A is that it is currently the lowest possible GWP refrigerant available that allows Thermo King to deliver higher capacity, faster pulldown and more accurate temperature control than other unit and refrigerant offerings on the market today. Mr Gadron noted that in the last few months, there has been an uptake in shipping lines purchasing this refrigerant. “This means that they recognise the value of the capacity, cargo integrity and efficiency of our units with R-452A. There is a pressure from shipping line customers and stakeholders to be greener and this matches with our ambitions in this area too.”
Elsewhere, Carrier Transicold has introduced a PrimeLINE model that can be converted from R-134a to R-513A, a refrigerant with a lower GWP.
Mr Yeo commented “Among the biggest challenges faced by the container shipping industry today is the transition to new refrigerants that have lower GWP than those that have been used for the last 25 years.”
Conventional container refrigerants include R-134a and R-404A, which have GWPs of 1,430 and 3,922, respectively.
A new alternative for R-134a in some existing designs is R-513A, which has a GWP of 631, so about half that of R-134a, and more than three times lower than R-452A (GWP 2,141), which is used in some competitive units as an alternative to R-404A.
Mr Yeo explained “Phasedowns of traditional HFC refrigerants due to their higher GWP have raised concerns about their future availability and pricing, and some of our customers have indicated an interest in using R-513A as an alternative.” So for customers acquiring new PrimeLINE units, Carrier Transicold has introduced a new version with a provision that enables customers to transition from R-134a to R-513A at a time of their choosing. These units feature a new digital scroll compressor designed for use with R-513A, as well as traditional R-134a.
But he emphasised fleets that want to use a more sustainable refrigerant and also want to hedge against price and availability issues associated with some high or medium GWP refrigerants should first consider Carrier Transicold’s natural-refrigerant based unit. The NaturaLINE unit uses the natural refrigerant carbon dioxide (CO2), which has an ultra-low GWP relative to hydrofluorocarbon refrigerants used in conventional container refrigeration systems. CO2 is the only alternative refrigerant already proven for this application that has a GWP of 1.
He warned “CO2 refrigerant takes refrigerated container customers to an end-state, bypassing the need for intermediate solutions such as R-513A, which will be subject to phase-outs within the lifespan of units purchased today.”