Reefer sustainability and energy efficiency are top of the agenda for both container carriers and reefer manufacturers
The expectation that future regulation will demand that more environmentally friendly refrigerants be used has led to the launch of more sustainable refrigerants for marine reefers.
Thermo King has traditionally used the R-404A refrigerant in marine reefers but in September last year 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.
Thermo King marine, rail and air vice president and general manager Pauli Johannesen told Container Shipping & Trade “There’s no legislation currently for marine reefers but to be prepared we have introduced R-452A. There is a lot of discussion around refrigerants and so we have to be smart and make sure that if something comes we are prepared.”
Two major container shipping lines – Thermo King was not able to release their names as this issue went to press – have signed up to the new refrigerant this year.
Mr Johannesen singled out two drivers: the strong take-up of this refrigerant by the truck and trailer market and its approval by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). “Its adoption by our truck and trailer customers is close to 100% and this has had a knock-on effect on the marine reefer market,” Mr Johannesen explained.
Furthermore, he said, the EPA stamp of approval gives shipping lines reassurance that this refrigerant will be available on the market long-term.
“Changing refrigerant is an important decision for our customers but now with the high adoption by the road transport market and EPA approval, combined with relatively low switching costs, we are seeing growing demand for R-452A in our equipment,” he summed up.
Elsewhere, Maersk Line ordered the first 100 of a total of 200 refrigerated containers to be chilled by Carrier Transicold’s NaturaLINE natural-refrigerant based system in March this year.
Carrier Transicold director of marketing, global container refrigeration Willy Yeo told Container Shipping & Trade: “The interest in our NaturaLINE refrigeration units is reflective of an important trend – the drive toward more environmentally sustainable shipping.”
NaturaLINE units use the natural refrigerant carbon dioxide (CO2), which the manufacturer said has an ultra-low GWP relative to synthetic hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants that are used in conventional container refrigeration systems. “This can help fleets like Maersk Line reduce the potential environmental impact of their shipping operations,” Mr Yeo said.
“It takes customers directly to an end state, bypassing the need for intermediate solutions with GWPs that are not close to CO2’s.” (see ‘Refrigerants by numbers’ diagram). It is widely available and relatively inexpensive.
Mr Yeo said that Maersk Line is not the only major shipping line evaluating CO2-based technology as a way to keep ahead of the new EU legislation on F-gases (which is aiming to restrict the use fluorinated greenhouse gases that are used in among other thigs refrigerants), which has set a timetable to halve the amount of CO2 contributing to global warming by 2030.
Several other shipping companies, including Hapag-Lloyd, are undergoing trials for NaturaLINE. Indeed, he said that due to environmental considerations, many industries are being compelled to move away from high GWP refrigerants., especially in in Europe because of the F-Gas Regulation.
In the US, the EPA’s Significant New Alternatives Policy has also initiated bans of HFC refrigerants in many applications.
Other European directives are having a knock-on effect on the development of reefers. For example, within the growing global pharmaceutical business, shippers need to adhere to guidelines known as Good Distribution Practices (GDP). European Commission GDP guidelines, which are used worldwide, call for the equipment used to control or monitor environments where medicinal products are stored and transported to be calibrated at defined intervals and for calibration records to be kept.
Therefore in Q3 this year Carrier Transicold added a new calibration capability for the temperature sensors of its PrimeLINE units and plans to add this to its NaturaLINE units in the future.
With sensor calibration done to help assure proper maintenance of critical temperatures in accordance with GDP, PrimeLINE units’ built-in data recorder is suitable for monitoring and recording temperature performance of the refrigeration system for GDP purposes.
Mr Yeo commented: “Producers of pharmaceuticals that require temperature control are increasingly turning to container shipping as a lower cost alternative to airfreight, so we see this as very useful in support of the changing logistics of the pharmaceutical business.”
Energy efficiency boost
In other developments, Thermo King’s new software for older reefers was launched in July last year. Mr Johannesen said that by uploading it on to Thermo King’s older Magnum model reefers – which are more than seven years old – it would create 20% energy savings. This is because it manages the refrigerant cycle more effectively, with the software settings creating a new timing system for when to stop and start the compressors and when to release the refrigerant.
The company has also added a Performance Enhancement Kit at the start of this year that focuses on the hardware of the older, Magnum containers. Mr Johannesen said that, by using this with the software, shipping lines could make energy savings of 40%. “It has more efficient, better components, including a temperature change controller and sensors,” he said of the new hardware, adding that return on investment was expected in less than a year.
Daikin controlled atmosphere slashes cargo damage risk
Daikin Reefer has developed Daikin Active Controlled Atmosphere that can control the atmospheric content inside a container by controlling the oxygen and CO2 levels to delay the ripening process of valuable perishables.
According to Daikin Reefer director Katsuhiro Tetsuya, monitoring and control technology increases the reliability of the refrigerating system on reefer containers and reduces the risk of cargo damage.
“For shippers, cargo quality and shelf life remain critical,” he explained. “The risk of damaged goods, plus the added reputational damage from a lack of reliability is high.” He said further advances in machine-to-machine (M2M) communications and data analytics are enabling real-time tracking of the position and temperature of reefer containers around the globe, increasing traceability, optimising maintenance, and preventing breakdowns.
With the right data, covering such parameters as temperature or equipment failures, analysis can be conducted to predict potential reefer breakdown, enabling pre-emptive or scheduled maintenance to be efficiently carried out, Mr Tetsuya said. “The resulting effect is a much more streamlined maintenance, breakdown, and repairs process, which reduces equipment downtime and minimises mistakes made through human error.”
An array of conditions, including temperature, humidity, and light, can be remotely monitored with small M2M devices that provide automated location data. “Real-time visibility can be improved to achieve greater control over complex container supply chain operations,” Mr Tetsuya explained.
He continued: “These new technologies have the potential to revolutionise the trouble shooting, repairs, and maintenance process by alleviating the potential for human error, thereby reducing reefer failures, cargo claims, and ultimately food waste.”
The sensors can determine whether something is wrong with the cargo, locate precisely which container it is in, alert the cargo owner and identify what tools are needed to fix the problem.
“Cargo quality combined with failure data analysis enables technicians to adequately prepare for maintenance if something goes wrong with our reefers, before a container arrives in port,” said Mr Tetsuya. “This safeguards cargo and minimises claims.”