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E360 Outlook: Fresh Off The Boat

Energy-efficient compressors help a top banana company save millions

Bananas

Imagine you sell a commodity so fragile it must be refrigerated the moment it’s harvested. Then it has to travel to every corner of the globe, but a small temperature change either way will ruin the entire load.

That’s the daily reality faced by Dole Food Company, Inc., the world’s largest producer and marketer of fresh fruits and vegetables. Thanks to recent improvements in shipping technology, however, Dole’s top bananas are sleeping more soundly, saving money on fuel and spoilage while reducing their carbon emissions.

Getting there is more than half the battle

Successfully transporting bananas is no easy task. In the field, bananas are first loaded into refrigerated containers that must be quickly brought to 58.0 °F (14.4 °C). If the temperature drops even a few degrees at any time, the bananas will develop dark spots and won’t ripen properly. If the temperature rises a few degrees, premature ripening and shrinkage occurs. Harsh weather encountered by ships also makes humidity control critical to protecting quality.

In the last decade, shippers like Dole and many others have turned to scroll compressor technology to better protect valuable perishables, save on energy costs and deliver environmental benefits. Modern refrigerated containers are equipped with digitally modulated scroll compressors that provide precise humidity control and maintain temperature within +/- 0.5 °F (+/- 0.3 °C).

An appealing bottom line

Dole switched most of its containers to this technology in 2005. At the harvest location digital modulation “pulls down” the temperature up to 25 percent faster than traditional compressors, enabling 46 percent more efficient temperature control for the rest of the bananas’ journey.

These compressors are smaller and lighter (95 pounds) than typical semi-hermetic compressors, which weigh around 325 pounds, leaving room for more bananas in every container. Industry experts estimate this technology could save the banana industry more than $10 million in fuel costs, reducing shrinkage and spoilage by $500 million annually. In addition, scroll compressors are already reducing carbon emissions related to banana transportation by 15 percent.

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