Mini Containers to Improve the Cold Chain Energy Efficiency and Carbon Footprint

Mahmmoud Muhammed Syam, Samantha Cabrera-Calderon, Kishorre Annanth Vijayan, Vignesh Balaji, Patrick E. Phelan, Jesus Rene Villalobos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


The cold chain—the system of refrigerated storage and transport that provides fresh produce or other essentials to be maintained at desired temperatures and environmental conditions— is responsible for substantial energy consumption and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and failures in the cold chain lead to food and energy waste. Here, we introduce the mini container concept as an alternative to conventional reefers, particularly for small growers. Mini containers are relatively small, insulated boxes, with environmental conditions controlled by an electric-powered central driving unit, which can be aggregated as needed and transported by non-refrigerated trucks and trailers. We analyze the energy consumption and GHG emissions for the transport of tomatoes in two cities representing contrasting climates, Phoenix, Arizona, and Chicago, Illinois, for conventional reefers and the proposed mini containers. These two cities provide the opportunity to compare the energy consumption and GHG emissions for the proposed mini containers versus conventional refrigerated transport under extremely different climate conditions. The results show that, as expected in both cases, as the ambient air temperature increases, the energy consumption and GHG emissions also increase. For partial reefer loads less than 72% and 85% for Phoenix and Chicago, respectively, the use of the mini containers reduces energy consumption and GHG emissions because of the reduced volume requiring refrigeration. In general, since the mini containers are fully electrified, their corresponding GHG emissions can be dramatically reduced, and since the fresh produce can be pre-cooled with renewable energy, GHG emissions can even be eliminated.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number76
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2022


  • carbon footprint
  • cold chain
  • energy efficiency
  • fresh produce
  • tomatoes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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