Make sure to check out this months edition of TCS&D Magazine for an exclusive interview with inventor of BlueSeal Hans Opdam. In this interview Hans discusses the benefits of air curtains over PVC barriers, what makes BlueSeal air curtains so effective and future plans for the evolution of the product.
View online at : https://go.epublish4me.com/ebook/html/10108257#page/20
Hans Opdam has spent the best part of his career working in sustainable energy technologies that solve critical problems in the cold chain. From leading a team of physicists for Econcern on a project designed to transport cold goods with zero emissions in 2005, Hans has seen his product BlueSeal Air Curtains gain notoriety worldwide as a leading technology for keeping goods cool during deliveries.
How did the idea of BlueSeal air curtains come about?
In 2005 I was leading a team of physicists while working for Econcern on a project that would transport cold goods emission-free. For this project, we proposed a new refrigerated truck concept using eutectic refrigeration, which wouldn’t use diesel fuel to operate. The problem with this as a method is that it requires a heavy weight of eutectic mass to store cold and has a reduced cooling energy against diesel-based alternatives – so in order to make this viable we had to come up with a solution to prevent energy loss at the most critical stage of the cold chain.
As any temperature-controlled transporter will tell you, the biggest fluctuation in cargo temperature will occur during deliveries when doors are open. Goods are exposed to the elements and warm air infiltration will raise the temperature of the cargo. When this is repeated over multiple stops throughout the day, refrigeration systems are exhausting a tremendous amount of energy trying to bring the temperature back to where it needs to be. Often the temperature isn’t able to return to a safe level at all which leaves a very real risk of products spoiling, especially with food and pharmaceuticals which require strict temperatures to be adhered to.
Who are Brightec?
Brightec is the company that I formed when Econcern filed for bankruptcy and folded. With a patent in place for the first iteration of BlueSeal, I formed a company that could manufacture the product in Holland which is important to ensure that it’s an unparalleled high quality product. I am fortunate to share the responsibility with my son Tom who is also a keen physicist with a keen eye for business. Even though the operation has grown as we gain popularity throughout the world, at heart we are still a small family company committed to creating environmentally friendly technologies. There are two distinct sides to the business as both a manufacturer of a peripheral product and a team of scientists that are driven by sustainable energy solutions. This latter part is important to us and we feel it is important to share our research data and tests on the “Insights” page of our website to contribute to a culture of knowledge-sharing in a rapidly evolving industry.
How are air curtains preferential to physical climate barriers like PVC curtains?
Physical curtains are a fantastic idea that unfortunately don’t work very effectively in a real-world application. The most evident problem is that when a delivery driver is unloading goods, they will move the curtains to one side which renders them obsolete as this allows warm air infiltration at the most critical point when cargo temperature needs to be kept low. In the worst instances, drivers are known to fold these over to one side entirely to make this easier to unload without hindrance. It was clear to us that a more elegant solution was needed where the climate barrier couldn’t be interrupted by a driver doing his job. Maintaining cargo temperature during loading and unloading is better for the product, the driver, and ultimately the operating costs of the operator.
How have the air curtains performed on the road?
Before we launched BlueSeal Original, a lot of research went into finding the optimal air speed and fine tuning a laminar airflow that wouldn’t be counterproductive to what an air curtain is trying to achieve (if the air flow speed is too high, this actually creates a forced convection with a high rate of heat transfer into the vehicle). So ultimately there’s a lot more to the product than may appear.
Once we got this right, we welcomed customers to test the product to see how this would work in application and these independent tests far exceeded what we thought possible in terms of product preservation and the cooling energy saved for the vehicle.
A few years back, the Centre for Sustainable Energy Use in Food Chains (CSEF) put BlueSeal to the test in a project for Brunel University and recorded a dramatic energy saving of ca. 45% to recover cargo temperature in their 18 tonne truck model, and ca. 30% in a small box truck.
We have also welcomed various customer tests that have confirmed their effectiveness and received feedback from drivers that this allows them to do their job more effectively, unhindered by a physical barrier while unloading and without fear of product spoiling.
How have BlueSeal air curtains evolved over the years?
After the initial success of BlueSeal Original that was primarily designed for larger trailers, we started looking at how this might be made more compatible with other vehicle types. Our next natural successor came in the form of BlueSeal Compact which has a more streamlined design that can fit over the doors of a smaller vehicle like a refrigerated van to allow for a greater loading area.
Most recently we launched BlueControl, which comes with a range of extra features such as an LED display that informs drivers how long doors have been open to encourage minimising these periods. There’s also an integrated light sensor with options for magnetic and infra red sensors to detect door openings in any possible situation and for ease of installation this model connects directly to the vehicles battery with minimal setup so the unit essentially works right out of the box.
We have also worked in partnership with customers to build custom units with a specific end use in mind. This year at IAA Transport Expo in Hamburg, French commercial bodybuilder Lamberet demonstrated our collaboration by showing the custom-made BlueSeal air curtains for their pneumatic shutter doors which was an exciting 12 month project working together with their R&D department.
Currently we are in the testing stages of BlueSmart, which is an incredible innovation that allows BlueSeal to detect outside temperatures automatically and adjust airflow accordingly for maximum energy efficiency. This should create further energy savings on top of what is already a very effective system.
What does the future of cold transport look like to you?
For me personally, it is truly heart warming to see the wider industry invest so much into the next generation of vehicles that offer fully emission-free solutions to transporting cold goods. This is something that we could have only dreamed about during our inception when customers were primarily concerned about saving on fuel costs. Now this has been replaced by range anxiety and making every mile count on a vehicle’s battery charge.
Now that zero-emission vehicles are becoming commercially viable and widely adopted by transporters, we are proud to have a product that helps to support this next evolution in temperature-controlled transport by saving energy where it is needed most. We hope that diesel-based refrigeration will become a thing of the past as we adapt as an industry to more responsible and environmentally friendly methods of transporting cold goods.