Multivans refrigerated truck

Cold chain industry growth fuels greater use of polyurethane foam

With an increasing consumer demand for fresh foods, the refrigerated trucking market is expected to have substantial growth in the near future. The increase in the need for refrigerated trucks, commonly known as reefers, will be compounded by the continual growth in the biotech and pharmaceutical industries.

According to a study performed by Research and Markets, the global cold chain tracking and monitoring market was worth $163 billion in 2017 and it is estimated to grow to $305.2 billion by 2023. That is a compound annual growth rate of more than 11% between 2017 and 2023.

Items that need to be transported in refrigerated trucks are more than just pharmaceuticals and food, such as fruits and vegetables, meats, frozen foods and dairy products. Additional items include tobacco products, fine art, antiques, chemicals, engineered materials and personal care products. Due to regulations, economics and quality, more items than ever now require climate-controlled shipping.

The significant growth in cold chain infrastructure is directly tied to a need for more refrigerated trucks on the road. According to Nielsen, the global online grocery market alone is expected to reach $100 billion by 2022. This will be a significant driver for the reefer market and the refrigerated transport market.

Manufacturers realize that having a cargo capable of only maintaining a single temperature will be inefficient since products would have to be separated based on specific temperature requirements. Manufacturers have started to build reefers with multi-temperature systems to increase efficiency of the delivery process and offer customers more options and greater latitude.

Rigid polyurethane foam is an essential component for refrigerated truck bodies and used by leading manufacturers worldwide to make thermal efficiency and climate control possible. Polyurethane foam offers excellent insulation value that is superior to traditional materials, such as cellulose, mineral wool and fiberglass, but also superior to EPS and XPS boardstock.  Polyurethane foam also offers excellent structural enhancement, sound abatement and moisture control.

That said, more refrigerated trucks will translate to more polyurethane foam consumption.

It is common for manufacturers to install two or three-inch walls of polyurethane foam in their trucks, but some are starting to engineer and use thicker cross-sections, from four to even six-inch insulated walls to better insulation value. Even though the trailer is heavier, the weight increase is ultimately marginal and outweighed by energy savings in the long term.

When it comes to the cold chain, polyurethane foam is not just used in refrigerated trucks. It is also used in many other links in the cold chain. The foam can also be used from harvest to storage, during transport, as well as in retail, restaurants and homes.

Whether it is to transport food, pharmaceuticals or antiques, more trucks will be found on the highways in the near future.  As the cold chain industry and its infrastructure continue to grow, so will the need for refrigerated trucks and rigid polyurethane foam.

Meland is the NAFTA business director at Foam Supplies Inc (FSI), a global enterprise that manufactures innovative polyurethane foam chemical technologies. He can be reached at [email protected].

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