Blog March 17, 2016

Composite tank containers – an innovation to celebrate

By Nicola Byers

The world of tank containers is not famous for innovation. While software service providers have consistently managed to update and improve their services, the assets that they have been tracking have stayed more or less the same. In a way, this is not hugely surprising; there is only so much innovation that you can do with a container.

So it is nice to have the chance to write about an important new technology that has resulted in improved environmental performance, greater payload, lower risk and reduced congestion – composite tank containers.

First, as Jennifer Anniston used to say in those L’Oréal adverts: “Here comes the science bit”! Dutch manufacturer Tankwell has developed a swap body type tank container in which a patented manufacturing process has been used to replace the stainless steel vessel with a one-piece, filament wound fibre reinforced vessel.  The product took a number of years to develop and in January 2015 the prototype passed all the statutory tests at the TÜV test institute in Görlitz, Germany, and obtained ADR, RID and CSC approval.

It has an integrated temperature control system that was engineered by Dutch company Huikeshoven and is based on a heatable veil called the PowerSHEAT. This can be fully impregnated and contributes to improved thermal performance. The frame was developed with Dutch company (can you spot a pattern here?) Flax Field Europe. Stainless steel valves and traditional materials have been adopted for ease of maintenance and availability of spare parts. A swap body tank container is created with the integral design of the composite tank and a steel frame.

The benefits of all this innovation are considerable. The composite swap body tank container has a capacity of 31,000 litres but only weighs 2,230kg – over 40% less than traditional stainless steel tank containers. It provides a 3% fuel saving per transported cubic metre of product. It also has 40% better thermal insulation compared with stainless steel tank containers. This means that there is often no need to reheat the product before delivering it to the customer, which saves heating costs and improves safety.

Jacco van Holten, commercial director at Den Hartogh Logistics, claims that freight cost will drop by 5% to 10% as a result and pointed out that the increase in payload leads to time saved on loading and unloading: “More payload simply means less transports, less CO2 emission, less physical handlings, less congestion – and less risk.” Den Hartogh incorporated the tanks into its fleet from December last year.

They were following in the footsteps of Hoyer, which put its 15th Tankwell composite tank into operation in October 2015. One month later the Hamburg based company won a BASF Global Supplier Award in the sustainability section. BASF was one of the first adopters of Hoyer’s composite tanks and now uses them in various product areas. Ulrich Graupe, Hoyer’s director of equipment management, highlighted the environmental benefits: “We save both energy and transport costs by using composite tanks, and we reduce the number of traffic movements through their load capacity.”

Where the Dutch have led, it looks like the Russians are following. In January the Russian Maritime Register of Shippingissued certificates of approval for tank containers made of polymer composite materials and intended for transportation of hazardous goods. The manufacturers in this case are Research and Production Corporation UralVagonZavod and Uralcryomash. The container is also made from polymer composite materials and is intended to transport hazardous substances such as hydrochloric acid and sodium hydroxide. Less information is available on the advantages of these tank containers, though Uralcryomash claims a weight reduction of “at least 20%” compared with stainless steel tanks and states that they will have the same performance when carrying hazardous goods for at least 15 years.

Where these manufacturers have led, others are certain to follow and we can expect to see increased use of this composite technology in 2016.