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Depot system makes reusable cold chain shipping smart and green

Innovative temperature-critical shipping system wins two 2011 Greener Package Awards.

Intelligent Thermal Solutions, LLC, Kingsville, TX, has been named a winner of two 2011 Greener Package Awards in the Secondary/Large-Format Packaging category: Environmental Impact and Innovator of the Year. Its innovation rests in taking existing refrigerated container technology for temperature-critical shipments and pairing it with a "depot"-style logistics system to create a viable sustainable alternative for cold-chain shipping.

"When using reusable, returnable shipping containers, the cost of return logistics is what usually makes the use of the containers unfeasible," explains Intelligent Thermal Solutions CEO John Howe. "In the depot system, the customer does not own the containers, but rents or leases them. The system is used to accept the containers at the end of the shipment to eliminate the cost of returning them to the origin.

"When the container is shipped within the depot system, the cost for the container is competitive with the cost for a one-way disposable foam insulated container."

Intelligent Thermal Solutions' 36-liter ultra-rugged EcoTherm™ ATA R36 refrigerated shipper features several patented technologies that allow the container to maintain an internal temperature of 2ºC to 8ºC for five days, while using less material than a typical cold-chain shipper, and it can be reused up to 100 times.

In its Greener Package Awards entry form, Intelligent Thermal Solutions paints an interesting picture to help the judges appreciate how much less expanded polystyrene and polyurethane the EcoTherm ATA R36 uses versus traditional cold-chain containers: "One hundred EcoTherms would be required for 10,000 shipments. Ten thousand each of EPS or PUR containers would be required. Assuming no salvage of an EcoTherm container [at end of life], visualize that the EcoTherm containers would cover a football field 0.014 feet deep. The PUR containers would be 4.09 feet deep. The EPS would be 7.52 feet deep."

But the EcoTherm containers are salvaged at end of life by Intelligent Thermal Solutions, with 65% of the material used in new containers, 30% recycled, and 5% going to landfill.

Another advantage of the patented technology used in the container is its ability to reduce product spoilage by maintaining optimal internal temperature. The technology includes a patented Thermal Shield, an aluminum box that surrounds the payload inside the container and equalizes the temperature in the payload area using conduction.
According to Howe, this method conducts heat 10,000 times faster than convection, which is regularly used in other cold-chain shippers.

Patented vacuum insulation panels (VIP) on the walls of the container are said to be 9.5-times more efficient at insulating the load than EPS, and are 5.88-times more efficient than PUR. Lastly, the company's Active Temperature Controller provides intelligence to the box, using a thermostat to activate a thermal conduit. "The active temperature controller regulates the internal temperature based on current ambient temperature fluctuations," explains Howe.

A testimonial to the container's effectiveness, customer Gordon L. Johnson II, head of strategic innovation for LifeConEx, says, "We have used the EcoTherm ATA R36 for many shipments to all continents in all seasons without experiencing a temperature excursion. The ease of use of this particular thermal shipping system is impressive, as is the robustness of its design."

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