ecoFridge - a noiseless, emissions-free liquid nitrogen-based transport refrigeration system - delivers an environmentally-friendly alternative to diesel-fuelled cooling systems.
Back in 2001 a former NASA scientist, Howard Pedolsky, and the former director of the Ukrainian Institute for Low Temperature Physics and Engineering, Roland Gavrylov, developed ecoFridge, a refrigerated transport system that operates in complete harmony with the environment. Using the process of evaporating liquid nitrogen, it cools food products transported in truck trailers and other vehicles by us. Nitrogen is the major component of air and does not produce any hazardous emissions. In comparison, traditional diesel-fuelled refrigerated trucks that dominate the transport of perishable goods add to current levels of carbon dioxide and hydro fluorocarbons (HFCs) are primary contributors to global warming and the depletion of the ozone layer.
"One truck trailer fuelled by diesel releases 25 to 30 tonnes of CO2 during the course of the year. Multiply that with the number of diesel-fuelled refrigerated trucks that transport food across the globe and the quantity of CO2 emitted would be an astounding figure. In stark contrast, the ecoFridge emits zero carbon dioxide," enthuses Thomas Roller, the new dynamic CEO of Ukram Industries, the Kharkov-based producer of ecoFridges.
"The EU and North America in particular are pushing legislation to reduce carbon emissions. Governments, businesses and people are increasingly becoming aware of the need to cut the environmental costs of doing business. ecoFridge is an avant-garde product which is designed to care for the environment," explains Mr Roller.
Retailers adopt noiseless, emissions-free ecoFridges
ASDA, one of the UK's largest supermarket chains, is one of the ecoFridge buyers. According to the UK's Department for Transport the company has set itself the goals of cutting the fleet's total emissions and reducing the noise levels for local residents close to its stores, especially when delivering chilled goods at night. It is now beginning to replace its entire fleet of diesel-fuelled fridge units with these emission-free silent running alternatives which will help it to reduce CO2 emissions, minimise noise pollution from deliveries and help save money.
Asda's Network Transport Manager, Chris Hall, told the UK's Department for Transport that 'nitrogen powered fridge units are a major step towards ensuring that our transport fleet reduces costs, cuts carbon emissions and lowers the overall environmental impact of food distribution'.
"The diesel-fuelled fridges run at 60 decibels in terms of noise. ecoFridges run at zero decibels, which allows for deliveries in many urban areas where there are noise restrictions. For example, in many areas of Paris, there are restrictions on deliveries between 7pm and 7am. ecoFridge delivers within that timeframe because it makes no noise," argues Mr Roller.
The secret behind the silence is the absence of moving parts in the cooling system, and the fact that it does not require a mechanical engine, unlike traditional diesel-fuelled refrigerated trucks.
The UK-based Noise Abatement Society (NAS) which encourages companies to help protect the environment from noise pollution considers the development of nitrogen powered fridge units to be revolutionary and awarded the 2006 John Connell Technology Award to Ukram. NAS Trustee Gloria Elliot said: "ecoFridge solves the problem of delivering refrigerated goods to supermarkets at night, which is currently banned due to the high noise pollution of traditional refrigerated trailers. With the ecoFridge system we can combine the growing necessity for 24-hour delivery of goods and reap the environmental benefits."
ecoFridge has come a long way since its conception and is now in commercial production. Ukram plans to sell over 5,000 units a year in five years time.
"It's an ambitious plan," admits Ukram's CEO, "in particular at a time when businesses have become frugal because of the global financial crisis." Mr Roller knows all too well that this is not an easy venture. "The infrastructure within the major fleets from both the fuel and maintenance standpoint is dominantly diesel oriented. It takes time and money to integrate nitrogen usage in a fleet that might include thousands of trucks and trailers. But there is a lot to learn from companies such as ASDA in the UK, Safeway in the USA, Groupe Casino in France or Pick’n’Pay in South Africa, who have the vision to invest in ecoFridges and contribute to a greener future," he adds.
"ecoFridges cost less to operate and maintain," Mr Roller points out. "In a year, it could save up to US$ 3,000 (at the current diesel prices) in terms of costs and maintenance. Also diesel and petrol prices fluctuate depending on economic conditions and demand. But nitrogen, which we use to power ecoFridges, has been at a stable price for 30 years because it’s produced from air separation. The environment gives us the air to produce the nitrogen."
EBRD funds sustainable energy projects
The project has received the EBRD’s financial backing. Funds have helped to make the shift from a research and development operation to a fully commercial business. Huw Williams, the EBRD's Senior Banker working on the project, reveals that "the Bank is fully behind the project because it has the potential to contribute to a greener future, and is now working with the company to attract additional investors.”
This is just one of the sustainable energy projects that the EBRD has financed since 2006 through the innovative Sustainable Energy Initiative which has invested €4 billion so far in 237 projects in 27 countries from central Europe to central Asia.
Facts about ecoFridge, the nitrogen powered transport fridge:
Fuelled by liquid nitrogen, which is separated from air; 78% of air is nitrogen.
Produces zero CO2 emissions compared to 25 - 30 tonnes of CO2 emitted by a diesel-fuelled refrigerated truck.
Runs silently, operating at virtually zero decibels as compared to 60 - 100 decibels of noise caused by diesel systems
Has fewer moving parts which lead to nearly 70% lower maintenance costs.
ecoFridge’s minimal temperature variance (between 0.1°C and 0.7°C) reduces food spoilage, whereas a diesel system’s temperature can vary by up to 3.3°C.
Requires virtually no routine maintenance and only two annual checks with ecoFridge team on hand to provide assistance when needed.
Has a useful life of 15 years or more, which is double that of diesel systems (5-7 years).
Retail price is 10 per cent more than diesel-fuelled refrigerated systems.
By Claire Ricklefs, Communications Adviser and Marjola Xhunga, Communications Adviser