Thermo King says exporters can reach new destinations with 'active' CA tech
Ensuring fresh fruit and vegetables arrive at distant locations in the same condition as when they left the field presents its challenges to fresh produce sectors and can be especially expensive for some exporters. Finding a solution to these issues was key to Thermo King's new controlled atmosphere products that promise to preserve the taste, quality and nutritional value of certain food during sea freight transportation.
Vice president for the company's global marine, rail and bus segment Michel van Roozendaal and product support manager Tom Smet go into more detail with www.freshfruitportal.com.
Thermo King's new Magnum Plus Optima active technology is designed to slow down the ageing and ripening process of fruit and vegetables during shipping.
Recently showcased at a trade event in Rotterdam, the technology appeals to global exporters looking for cost-effective atmosphere control options for perishable cargo.
"The Optima unit is a controlled atmosphere using active technology, a point we like to stress because there are a couple of other so-called controlled atmosphere units on the market, but we are proud that our units are a genuine active system," says van Roozendaal.
"The whole idea and notion of this product is that it brings the atmosphere inside the container, for let's say fruit or vegetables, very quickly to the desired mixture between nitrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxide so that you can control the ripening process.
"You may want to slow the process down or maybe accelerate it. This technology is increasingly important when you think about increasing global trade of fruit and vegetables in the widest variety."
The new Magnum Plus Optima system helps to maintain qualities like firmness, crispness, reduces shrinking and decay, adds van Roozendaal, and by pro-longing the post-harvest life of produce, cargo owners can extend shipping distance and reach unexplored markets.
Another motivation for the technology is the fact that global consumers expect to get fresh fruit and vegetable in the best conditions, explains product manager Smet, and with growing middles classes in emerging countries, this aspect will only become more important internationally.
"Fresh fruit and vegetables are very much like human beings. During the ripening process they burn oxygen and convert it into carbon dioxide and that deteriorates the quality of the produce so the way to stop that is first of all to lower the temperature which we try to address with the new system," he says.
"The second way to stop the ripening process it to take away the oxygen so that the respiration process stops and you put your fresh fruit and vegetables in a kind of hibernation state and keep them for a much longer period. That is the fundamental technology behind controlled atmosphere."
But what is removing oxygen from a container in an 'active' controlled way?
"There are fundamentally two different ways to do it; either you have a passive system which is a little bit lazy - you have to rely on the natural respiration of the fruits to bring down the oxygen level in the container gradually. The process can take quite a while depending on the kind of commodity.
"For bananas it might go quite fast because they have a very high respiration rate but for other commodities like berries it can take a very long time, even days, to bring down the oxygen levels. So as long as there is oxygen in the container your produce will continue to ripen.
"With an active system, you of course take an active approach. Our system actively removes the oxygen from the container without relying on the respiration of the fruits so you can bring down the oxygen level much faster and therefore stop the respiration process much faster."
How long can fruit or vegetables stay in the hibernation state?
Smet explains some categories are more sensitive to oxygen than others.
"For instance, for apples it can be up to several months, for bananas it could easily cover the whole route from say Ecuador to deep into Russia," he says.
"Apples and bananas are very sensitive to oxygen while controlled atmosphere will have limited influence with pineapple, so it really depends on the commodity and the trade route.
"Our intention is to increase the quality of fruit and vegetables delivered to consumers so our target market is cargo owners, shippers, exporters, importers and the receivers in the importing countries. They are the ones who will benefit the most from this technology and actually for some exporters it will allow them to explore new markets giving them the opportunity to grow their business."
Transporting tropical fruit by sea freight is achievable
Shipping some tropical fruit, such as mango, by sea can be difficult so a lot of this type of cargo is transported by air instead.
"Transferring mango by air is a very expensive solution so with the controlled atmosphere, there is the opportunity to put mango in a container and save a lot of money on logistics costs," Smet says.
"This will be a very competitive price for comparable solutions and it will be available during the course of 2015."
Showcasing Thermo King technologies at Intermodal Europe 2014
Company representatives recently demonstrated products at one of the world's leading container, transport and logistics events in Rotterdam. In addition to the active system, Thermo King also presented its passive refrigeration technology.
"This is a system where we have patented technology with a specific chemical composition which is held at a minus temperature and will absorb the exothermic energy produced by the fruit or vegetables keeping the cargo at a constant temperature for a longer period of time which can be 12 to 20 days, depending on the circumstances," van Roozendaal explains.
"The unit provides low temperature without it needing an electrical supply, so it can be unplugged. This allows for flexibility in shipping units because you can ship the container without needing immediate access to power so on board a container vessel you can put the container at any position on board the ship, not necessarily at the reefer plug.
"When you have post-harvest transport, you can do so without needing a power supply on board the truck. The big benefit is by nature of this passive system there is much less air circulation and typically air circulation leads to degradation of quality of the fruit and vegetables and therefore you can ship produce at a higher quality."
Van Roozendaal adds the passive system has received positive feedback from shipping lines that are 'quite fascinated' by results of trials that have been performed so far.
This and other refrigerated systems will be showcased at Fruit Logisitica in Berlin next year.