Being seen to be going green is gaining pace in the business of refrigerated trucking and this is especially so since the emergence of the ecoFridge, environmentally friendly packaging and lower emissions.
Good news is that the ecoFridge is alive and well and in South Africa. Several units are in daily operation and are being monitored and evaluated in a bid to get to grips with cryogenic technology in action. FleetWatch’s Max Braun spoke to the manufacturers, some of the early users and a few prospective users keen to learn from the practical experience of the front runners.
Cryogenic refrigeration is not a new concept. The food industry has used Nitrogen as a coolant for many years. First conceived in the US, the ecoFridge was subjected to seven years of research and development before it was ready for release. The first units were installed in 2008. Currently nearly 900 units are in operation or on order pending installation. These units are manufactured in the Ukraine and are operating in the US, UK, France, Germany, Israel and South Africa.
ecoFridge was introduced to the South African market in 2009 where several units are in full time operation and are being closely monitored. Speaking with Liam Olliff, sales and marketing director at ecoFridge, he focused on features such as the ability to pull down temperatures very rapidly , approximately 70% quicker than conventional mobile fridge units – without damaging products or elements inside the insulated box.
A major attraction is zero emissions – none at all – and a completely silent unit. This will be most helpful during night deliveries and welcomed by residents living near large retail outlets and distribution centres. Freshmark’s director of operations, Gawie du Toit, who is in the process of evaluating a unit, says Nitrogen as a coolant is product friendly when it comes to fruit and vegetables as it contributes to stabilising fruit and veg quality while being transported. Cryogenic refrigeration also has almost no moving parts. It requires minimum maintenance. This saves significant operating costs and down time. When properly maintained, it has a longer useful life than conventional diesel driven units.
According to discussions with some of the users, there is little difference in capital cost. Olliff confirmed to FleetWatch the appointment of Transfrig as its distributor for ecoFridge products in South Africa as at the end of July 2010. This led me to Peter Solomon, managing director of Transfrig, a company of longstanding that needs no introduction to the refrigerated transport industry. Transfrig has a network of 21 dealers strategically located around South Africa.
Solomon says they are in the process of training some 14 experienced technicians to advise and assist users and provide ongoing technical back up. Apart from being responsible for replacement parts and technical support, Transfrig technicians will be overseeing and assisting with all ecoFridge installations at their own dealer premises or at body and trailer builder premises. This should provide a healthy degree of reassurance for those users and prospective users that place value on access to locally based technical support.
When it comes to questions around energy costs and the availability of liquid Nitrogen, it is necessary to take into consideration there is not yetsufficient data on which to form a firm opinion. ecoFridge have the results of an ATP test that was undertaken under specific working conditions. The result of this test is on the ecoFridge website www.ecoFridge.com
Depending on the transport operation, the Nitrogen usage should be between 25 to 30 litres per hour. Liquid Nitrogen is sold by mass, namely kilograms. It has a specific gravity of about 0.967 depending on the level of purity. Purity is a term used by Nitrogen producers when determining the use of the product such as in the food industry or in some other industrial project. To equate this with diesel, we need to know the specific gravity of the diesel as this varies between diesel made from coal or gas and diesel refined from crude oil.
Observations so far, rather than tests, indicate there may be an advantage in favour of Nitrogen. However, let’s be realistic. It does not mattermuch whether you are talking about Nitrogen or diesel, these are the factors that determine energy (fuel) costs in mobile refrigeration:
‘¢ The temperature of goods when the vehicle is loaded.
‘¢ The number and duration of door openings.
‘¢ The integrity of the insulated box (condition of side panels, holes in floor, broken door seals etc).
‘¢ Condition of the fridge unit? The mechanical condition of a conventional unit or the nozzle settings on an ecoFridge.
The price of liquid Nitrogen, not unlike diesel supplies, is based on volume and frequency. EcoFridge units are usually equipped with a Nitrogen storage tank with a capacity of 540 to 950 litres. Depending on the number of ecoFridges in the fleet, the location of the fleet in relation to a Nitrogen plant and whether you’re operating long distance or short haul, are all important aspects in determining the price per kilogram.
Access to nitrogen
Several potential users expressed concern regarding access to Nitrogen. This encouraged me to make contact with Andre Steenkamp, the national distribution manager operations at Afrox. Steenkamp says liquid Nitrogen is abundantly available. It is produced by all the company’s plants located all over the country. In fact, Afrox has an impressive fleet of vehicles delivering tons of Nitrogen in a large part of the country. Afrox confirmed that price and availability is the product of volume and frequency.
Steenkamp’s advice to all users and prospective users is to contact their nearest Afrox plant and discuss their needs with the local manager. Price is also dependent on the product specification that is recommended for best performance. Whatever our findings turn out to be in the near future when we have more solid data on energy costs, we can be assured that the price of Nitrogen is most likely to be a lot more stable than the diesel price.
There will always be questions about safety. Liam Olliff and Peter Solomon make the point that Nitrogen is not toxic. The ecoFridge works well with multi-temperature boxes providing appropriate temperatures for each compartment. The load box is equipped with a fail safe system that prevents the doors from opening until it has ventilated. In the unlikely event of someone being locked in the box there are lights, an alarm and a switch to override the system. According to current experience in South Africa, the time to ventilate the box is around one minute or less , this especially so when the side door is opened. The ventilation process can be commenced while backing up to the dock leveller and handing over the paperwork thereby avoiding any delay in commencing unloading. The rapid pull down time restores the set point in just a few minutes subject to the outlined points above.
There is no doubt about it, the EcoFridge is making an impressive impact in more ways than one in this industry sector.