Container carriers and shippers of refrigerated cargoes, facing slower transit times and more distant markets, are looking to high-tech solutions from container manufacturers.
“Some of our customers are asking for more technology to help offset longer transit times,” said Jim Taekens, senior product manager for Carrier Transicold. “I think it is a particular concern for perishable products.”
Last fall, Carrier introduced its XtendFRESH container atmosphere control system. Controlled atmosphere technology has existed for years, but the XtendFRESH system improves controlled atmosphere in several ways, removing ethylene while controlling oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, Taekens said.
“This is significantly cheaper than other CA systems, and because it is fully modular, it can be added to existing refrigerated containers that are not equipped with that feature.” he said. “That gives carriers a lot more flexibility with what it can offer customers using their existing fleets.”
Carrier Transicold manufactures the temperature and atmosphere control systems and units that are then integrated into insulated trailers, containers and trucks to form refrigerated units.
Carrier said the system helps slow ripening and decay of dozens of types of fruits and vegetables, in general doubling the shelf life of the products.
Maersk Container Industry in January jumped into the fray by offering a new ozone air cleaning system it said reduces or removes molds, fungi and bacteria. Developed with Boston-based technology company Primaira, the Bluezone system can be added to reefer boxes along with other controlled atmosphere and automated ventilation systems.
Maersk Container manufactures complete units by installing temperature and atmosphere controls into insulated boxes.
Bluezone uses an ozone concentration 300 times higher than systems already on the market, using a sealed chamber so the ozone does not damage rubber, aluminum and copper parts in the boxes, the company said.
Soren Leth Johannsen, Maersk Container’s chief commercial officer, said the Bluezone system not only helps get traditional ocean cargoes to distant markets in better shape, but also offers shippers using expensive air freight the ability to shift to ocean carriers. “Just consider the economic and environmental upsides on potentially converting today’s air freight of fresh-cut flowers into reefer containers,” he said. He estimates Bluezone will add 5 to 10 percent to the cost of a controlled atmosphere container.
Taekens and Leth Johannsen said longer voyages and total transit times also have carriers asking for more fuel-efficient temperature and atmosphere control systems. The longer the voyage, the longer the reefer unit is running, either through a gen-set or plugged into onshore or on-vessel power.
“Our customers are interested in reducing energy costs and their carbon footprint,” Taekens said. “The longer a reefer unit is running, the more important it becomes to run efficiently as possible.”
And it’s not just the steamship lines interested in energy-efficient reefers. “Now it seems terminals are also starting to look at energy cost on land of efficient vs. inefficient reefers,” Leth Johannsen said, citing research done at Jacobs University in Bremen, Germany.
Maersk Container touts its Star Cool units for their energy-efficient design elements. Within recent months, Carrier has announced two new energy-saving products. Its PrimeLine containers are now available with a bundle of improvements named by the company as EDGE technology. “Hamburg Sud approached us on energy efficiency, and we worked in cooperation with them developing this,” Taekens said.
After testing on Hamburg Sud routes, Carrier reports energy savings of about 20 percent using EDGE. In November, the carrier purchased 6,500 containers that include the technology.
Other carriers have added to their refrigerated container fleet in recent months, with CSAV purchasing 2,000 boxes, Crowley Maritime adding 537 new containers, and Alaska Marine Lines, 200 new reefers. The carriers purchased the units from several manufacturers.
Maersk Line, which owns the world’s largest fleet of reefer boxes, has no plans to purchase new containers this year, according to Bill Duggan, vice president for North American refrigerated services. “At the start of 2014, Maersk has decided we have sufficient equipment to serve our customers and have no plans to buy any at this time,” he said. “Rates still do not justify the cost of further investment.”
But the refrigerated container market in general has “left the doldrums of 2013,” Leth Johannsen said. “We expect a market growth of 4 to 5 percent this year while independent analysts think it will be higher.”
The anticipated increase comes at a good time for Maersk Container as a new manufacturing facility is scheduled to open this summer in Chile. “We believe our customers will see an advantage from being able to get reefers in both China and Chile,” Leth Johannsen said. “We call it 1+1=3 because the average repositioning cost of an empty reefer can be around US$1,400.”
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