Conventional units which are fixed on truck need dedicated fleets making cold chain transportation unreliable or impossible for most products and package sizes in India.
India, today, is hit hardest by one of its weakest links – the lack of reliable, sustainable and effective cold chain solutions. While Governments are trying their best to bring vaccines to every Indian, manufacturers are grappling with the huge problem of getting goods and produce fresh to individual doorsteps.Increased consumer awareness and the need for brands to comply with basic quality standards has forced many manufacturers to invest in reliable cold chain solutions.The pandemic and associated restrictions and challenges have also given the much-needed push for adoption.
One of the most common changes is the switch from traditional reefer vehicles that run on diesel to PCM (Phase Change Material) based vehicles for secondary movement of goods from CFA’s to factories. Unlike traditional diesel-based solutions, these solutions are vehicle independent and use PCM heat exchangers and chargers which are permanently mounted on the vehicle insulated body. These high energy density PCMs freeze (change from liquid to solid state) to store energy and melt (solid to liquid) to release energy it as required during the transport period. The heat exchanger design and energy management system modulate the rate of charge and discharge. They need no power source during transport. The heat exchangers mounted on a typical 1 ton + (8.5ft+) vehicle require a 5-6 hour charge post which, they can run for 10-12 hours with multiple openings/drops. A single PCM based vehicle enable fuel savings of up to 1000 litres/ annum which means savings of 2.6 MT CO2 emissions per vehicle.
A large part of the cold chain transport in India is seasonal in nature and requires multi-temperature fleets on smaller vehicle platforms. Conventional units which are fixed on truck need dedicated fleets making cold chain transportation unreliable or impossible for most products and package sizes in India. PCM based alternatives offer a reliable and cost-effective solution to this problem. The modular nature of the technology (which is a combination of heat exchangers and chargers) not only offers a huge flexibility on size and transport vehicle, but also reduces the cost significantly, thereby increasing access to fragmented general trade. A smaller vehicle going to a general trade retail will mean lower vehicle capex and higher fuel efficiency in addition to saving on fuel for cooling, enabling them to be used as an effective solution to maintain cold chain in tertiary distribution as well. All the savings on fossil fuel while impacting the bottom lines also have a significant environmental impact.
Temperature-controlled logistics in the last mile distribution segment is the major pain point in India. This segment is not supported by conventional units as they cannot work on capacities smaller than a 1-ton vehicle. The average package size, especially for general trade in India, is very small. Most of the currently available cooling solutions for cold chain distribution require a continuous power source from a vehicle and runs on diesel, making them very expensive and environmentally unsustainable. The large costs incurred in transportation makes conventional solutions unviable for most stakeholders forcing them to break the cold chain or use unproven “jugaad”, especially towards consumer / retail end of the chain. This severely impacts product quality and increases food wastage. Food wastage is also considered to be one of the largest causes of GHG emissions worldwide, over and above the carbon emissions caused due to burning of fossil fuels to maintain the cold chain.
It is interesting to note that the same PCM based technology can be replicated to solutions as small as 5 litre bag making them an ideal solution for last mile/home delivery applications. Currently, most transporters use boxes insulated and lined with frozen ice packs, which are a mix of ice and water. The ice packs are generally conditioned at the warehouse and brought to the required temperature. These ice packs need to be perfectly conditioned prior to being loaded or else, products stand a chance of freezing and getting damaged. PCM based solutions are able to effectively mitigate this risk. These solutions contain a central charging station and thermal batteries (of sizes ranging from 70ml to 1500ml) that are charged and placed in the temperature-controlled bags and boxes. The batteries once discharged can be recharged and reused. These solutions offer multi use flexibility and temperature maintenance for chilled, fresh and frozen foods for a period of 12-16 hours.
It has taken us sometime, as a country, to realise the importance of investing in reliable cold chain solutions. The adoption may be slow, but it is heartening to see more customers making the investment and switching to more sustainable solutions. We will soon see adoption of end-to-end cold chain solutions, that will enable even a single slab of butter / vial of medicine get delivered to the last mile, at the right temperature and sustainably.
Source: Business World