• Cooling India
  • Apr 15, 2015

Advanced PCM Technology for Hybrid Reefer trucks

There are around 7,000 to 8,000 refrigerated vans or trucks having a total carrying capacity of 3.6 million tonne in India. However, this is far below the requirement...


The cost of a reefer truck is on an average about 60% higher than a normal truck varying slightly depending on different capacities. Reefer trucks form a crucial part of cold chain for both short and long duration transport. Cold chain refers to the storage, transport and various processes involved in supply chain of products that need temperature control. Agriculture crops, fruits, vaccines, vials, biological products form 90% of the products that need temperature control during transportation. 

     With rise in gross income level, there is a rising trend in demand of fresh fruits, vegetable, meat and dairy products. Upcoming initiatives in health care to eradicate disease calls for a safe transport of vaccines, drugs and biologics without losing its efficacy. This calls for capacity building of the cold chain sector. To achieve this result, NCCD, a cold chain development and awareness organisation, headed by the Ministry of Agriculture is investing heavily in capacity building. Cold chain is expected to grow at a CAGR of 28% for the next four years. (Analysis, 2014)

     Temperature control within a range of 2 to 8OC is largely required to keep fruits and vegetables fresh and reduce the rate of its decay. Inadequate infrastructure and transport facilities are the reasons for loss of 70 to 80% of the agricultural produce. Similarly, vaccines are sensitive to temperature excursions – hence, resulting in a loss of efficacy if exposed to a temperature higher than the desired range.

     Government and private players are on the lookout of technologies that could make the endeavour an economically feasible solution. Phase Change Material based reefer trucks is a recent addition to innovation in the cold chain sector. Utilisation of PCM has shown a substantial decrease in high operating costs of reefer trucks, thus reducing the overall refrigerated transport cost by 80%.

Refrigerated Trucks in India -‘Reefer trucks’

     Refrigerated transport caters mainly three broad temperature ranges: 'CRT' (18 to 25OC), 'frozen' (-20 to -25OC), and 'Chilled' (2 to 8OC). The conventional cooling unit in a reefer truck needs constant running of the diesel engine to maintain the temperature of the product. This use of diesel generator greatly increases the operating cost.

     In India (as per the official records), there are around 7,000 to 8,000 refrigerated vans or trucks having a total carrying capacity of 3.6 million tonnes. However, this is far below the actual requirement, given that India is the world’s 2nd largest producer of fruits and vegetables after China, and the country produces around 263 million tonnes of these items in a year (Agriculture, 2014).

     Pharma sector, growing at a CAGR of 17% (2015-17), is another critical sector that relies on refrigerated transport to ensure movement of temperature sensitive drugs and vaccines. The current demand for refrigerated transport can be fulfilled by around 20000 to 25000 trucks.

Challenges being faced by the Indian refrigerated transport sector:

  • High operating cost due to high diesel prices
  • Lack of awareness
  • Higher emissions 

Hybrid Reefer Trucks Using PCM Technology

     Hybrid Reefer trucks enable a way to eliminate the use of diesel to run the cooling unit. It is important to note that the refrigeration unit is used to maintain the temp range of product load, but it does not cool it down. Thus, passive cooling solution makes it possible to use Phase Change Materials to maintain the desired temperature. Phase Change Materials are thermal storage chemicals that can absorb a large amount of heat in the form of latent heat, while it changes phase. Pluss Polymers has pioneered in the field of PCMs in India that are designed to cater to a wide range of temps between -33 to +89OC.

     In a hybrid reefer truck, the cooling is provided by a number of plates filled with PCMs that are permanent fixtures inside the container. The cooling unit is a detachable independent unit, which performs the function of charging the PCM using electricity. The difference between a reefer truck and a PCM based truck is: the latter can be charged for about 4-5 hours using a 3-phase power source consuming about 8 to 9 units. One of the early innovators – TESSOL Pvt. Ltd. specialises in providing the PCM integrated reefer system. The shift from usage of diesel generator has reduced the overall transportation cost by 50% for the end user.

Government's Initiatives to Promote Usage of PCM

     The government has introduced subsidies and capacity building initiatives to satiate the growing demand for fresh food vegetables, frozen meat, drugs etc. The National Horticulture Board recommends that investment worth INR 550.74 billion in new cold storage capacities are needed by 2015-16 to keep up with the increasing production of fruits and vegetables – this is according to a report published in “Food wastage and cold storage infrastructure relationships in India” (Balan, 2013). The integration of PCMs in reefer trucks has provided a novel solution to control the prevailing operating costs. Refrigerated transport in India is at its nascent stage, and has a huge market potential with rise in demand. Preventing huge wastage of food, demand for fresh fruits, dairy products, frozen meat, and a concern for health safety are major forces boosting the cold chain sector. In addition to existing subsidy schemes, the government needs to motivate people and spread awareness regarding the cold chain. The proactive measures at an early stage would help keep in control the food wastage and GHG emissions.

Vishnu Sasidharan, Head Business Development, (Phase Change Materials) Pluss Polymers Pvt. Ltd.

Paramjot Singh Executive (Product Development) Pluss Polymers Pvt. Ltd.

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