Login| Sign Up| Help| Contact|

Patent Searching and Data


Title:
TRANSPORT CONTAINER WITH GAS SELECTIVE MEMBRANE EXHAUST
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2019/148252
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
Described herein is a method for operating a refrigerated shipping container containing respiring produce, the method including: passing a cooled CO2-rich air stream from an internal environment within the shipping container through a CO2 selective membrane of a membrane system to produce a cooled CO2-lean air stream and a CO2-rich permeate stream; retaining or returning the cooled CO2-lean air stream to the internal environment; and exhausting the CO2-rich permeate stream to an external environment outside of the shipping container; drawing external air or permitting external air to pass into the shipping container through an air vent with a pre-set fixed opening of the shipping container in a volume to at least balance a volume difference between the cooled CO2-rich air stream and the cooled CO2-lean air stream; wherein the membrane system is operated according to a pre-set mode, and the pre-set mode is independent of a measured gas concentration or pressure of the internal environment; and the pre-set fixed opening of the vent is selected based on one or more characteristics of the respiring produce and the pre-set mode of the membrane system.

Inventors:
JONES, Lee James (c/- 170 Forster Road, Mount Waverley, Victoria 3149, 3149, AU)
SAVUR, Sanjay (c/- 170 Forster Road, Mount Waverley, Victoria 3149, 3149, AU)
Application Number:
AU2019/050082
Publication Date:
August 08, 2019
Filing Date:
February 05, 2019
Export Citation:
Click for automatic bibliography generation   Help
Assignee:
MITSUBISHI AUSTRALIA LIMITED (Maxtend Division, Unit 35170 Forster Roa, Mount Waverley Victoria 3149, 3149, AU)
International Classes:
A23B7/148; A23L3/3418; B65D81/18; B65D81/24
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
FPA PATENT ATTORNEYS PTY LTD (Level 43, 101 Collins StreetMelbourne, Victoria 3000, 3000, AU)
Download PDF:
Claims:
CLAIMS

1. A method for operating a refrigerated shipping container containing respiring produce, the method including: passing a cooled C02-rich air stream from an internal environment within the shipping container through a CO2 selective membrane of a membrane system to produce a cooled C02-lean air stream and a C02-rich permeate stream; retaining or returning the cooled C02-lean air stream to the internal environment; and exhausting the C02-rich permeate stream to an external environment outside of the shipping container; drawing external air or permitting external air to pass into the shipping container through an air vent with a pre-set fixed opening of the shipping container in a volume to at least balance a volume difference between the cooled C02-rich air stream and the cooled C02-lean air stream; wherein the membrane system is operated according to a pre-set mode, and the pre-set mode is independent of a measured gas concentration or pressure of the internal environment; and the pre-set fixed opening of the vent is selected based on one or more

characteristics of the respiring produce and the pre-set mode of the membrane system. 2. The method of claim 1 , wherein the vent is operated independently of a controller or control system.

3. The method of claim 1 or 2, wherein the pre-set mode is not adjusted, altered, or controlled in response to any measured variable of the internal environment.

4. The method of any one of claims 1 to 3, wherein the method includes initially selecting the pre-set mode according to one or more characteristics of the respiring produce.

5. The method of claim 4, wherein the pre-set mode is selected from the group consisting of: a pre-set constant gas throughput, a pre-set variable gas throughput, a pre-set constant electrical load, a pre-set variable electrical load, a pre-set constant pressure differential between an inlet and an outlet of the membrane system, a pre-set variable pressure differential between an inlet and an outlet of the membrane system, a pre-set constant pump speed on a pump associated with the retentate side of the membrane, or a pre-set variable pump speed on a pump associated with a retentate side of the membrane.

6. The method of any one of claims 1 to 3, wherein the pre-set mode is additionally independent of one or more characteristics of the respiring produce.

7. The method of claim 6, wherein the pre-set mode is a fixed mode of operation.

8. The method of claim 7, wherein the pre-set mode is not adjusted, altered, or controlled.

9. The method of claim 8, wherein the fixed mode of operation is selected from: a pre-set constant gas throughput, a pre-set constant electrical load, a pre-set constant pressure differential between an inlet and an outlet of the membrane system, a pre-set constant pump speed on a pump associated with the retentate side of the membrane.

10. The method of any one of the preceding claims, wherein the membrane system is operated independently of a controller or control system. 1 1. The method of any one of the preceding claims, wherein the refrigerated shipping container is not operated under controlled atmosphere conditions.

12. A refrigerated shipping container configured to be operated according to the method of any one of the preceding claims.

13. A refrigerated shipping container configured to transport respiring produce, the refrigerated shipping container including: a membrane system including: a gas inlet open to an internal environment within the shipping container; a first gas outlet open to the internal environment within the shipping container; a second gas outlet open to an external environment outside the shipping container; a CO2 selective membrane configured to: receive a cooled C02-rich air stream from the internal environment via the gas inlet, and to separate at least a portion of CO2 from the cooled C02-rich air stream to form a cooled C02-lean air stream on a first side of the CO2 selective membrane and a C02-rich permeate stream on a second side of the C02 selective membrane, and discharge the cooled C02-lean air stream through the first gas outlet and the C02-rich permeate stream through the second gas outlet, and gas circulation means configured to pass the cooled C02-rich air from the internal environment through the C02 selective membrane; wherein the membrane system is configured to be operated according to a pre-set mode, and the pre-set mode is independent of a measured gas concentration or pressure of the internal environment; and an air vent with an opening, the air vent configured to be opened to a selected pre-set fixed opening based on one or more characteristics of the respiring produce and the pre-set mode of the membrane system.

14. The container of claim 13, wherein the pre-set mode is operated independently of a controller or control system.

15. The container of claim 13 or 14, wherein the pre-set mode is independent of any measured variables of the internal environment.

16. The container of any one of claims 13 to 15, wherein the vent is operated independently of a controller or control system.

17. The container of any one of claims 13 to 16, wherein the container does not include a controlled atmosphere control system.

18. A C02 selective gas membrane module when used in a refrigerated shipping container that does not include a controlled atmosphere control system, the membrane module including: a mount for installing the membrane module into the refrigerated shipping container; a gas inlet configured to be open to an internal environment within the shipping container; a first gas outlet configured to be open to the internal environment within the shipping container; a second gas outlet configured to be open to an external environment outside the shipping container; a C02 selective membrane configured to: receive a cooled C02-rich air stream from the internal environment via the gas inlet, and to separate at least a portion of C02 from the cooled C02-rich air stream to form a cooled C02-lean air stream on a first side of the C02 selective membrane and a C02-rich permeate stream on a second side of the C02 selective membrane, and discharge the cooled C02-lean air stream through the first gas outlet and the C02-rich permeate stream through the second gas outlet; and gas circulation means configured to pass the cooled C02-rich air from the internal environment through the C02 selective membrane; and wherein the membrane system is configured to be operated according to a pre set mode and the pre-set mode is independent of a measured gas concentration or pressure of an internal environment of the shipping container.

19. A method of installing a membrane module according to claim 18 in a refrigerated shipping container that does not include a controlled atmosphere control system.

20. A method of modifying a controlled atmosphere refrigerated shipping container to form a refrigerated shipping container according to any one of claims 12 to 17, the method including removing from the controlled atmosphere control system from the controlled atmosphere refrigerated shipping container. 21. A method for reducing refrigeration energy requirements in operation of a refrigerated shipping container containing respiring produce, the method including: a membrane exhaust step of drawing and/or driving air from the interior of the shipping container through a CO2 selective membrane of a membrane system installed in the shipping container, and exhausting the resulting C02-rich downstream air stream to the exterior of the shipping container; and an atmosphere replenishment step of causing or permitting ambient air from the exterior of the shipping container to pass into the container to balance the volume of air lost through the membrane; wherein the method is conducted in the absence of controlled atmosphere operation, such that neither the membrane exhaust step nor the atmosphere

replenishment step is conducted in accordance with the monitoring of a gas

concentration or pressure in the interior of the shipping container.

Description:
Transport container with gas selective membrane exhaust

Field of the invention

The present invention relates generally to a method of, and apparatus for, controlling gas composition within a refrigerated container, such as to extend the life of perishable goods during transport within the refrigerated container, while reducing the load required for cooling of the refrigerated container.

Background of the invention

In order to prolong the storage life of perishable goods (such as fruit and vegetables) stored in sealed controlled atmosphere containers during transportation or storage it is generally important to control at least some environmental conditions within the container. This is because environmental parameters, for example temperature and gas composition within the container, affect the rate of respiration and deterioration of goods after harvest.

The conventional method of extending storage life of produce has been to refrigerate the sealed container and to reduce carbon dioxide levels (as carbon dioxide is generated by respiring produce), while maintaining a controlled atmosphere within that container (e.g. maintaining oxygen and nitrogen at desired levels). However if the oxygen concentration is reduced too much or the carbon dioxide concentration rises too high, then the perishable product may be damaged, resulting in even more rapid deterioration than might occur if no treatment was applied. Consequently it is desirable to be able to adjust the composition of the atmosphere within the sealed chamber and apparatus for adjusting the atmosphere in the chamber has accordingly been developed.

Applicant's invention described in WO 2000/023350 entitled 'Apparatus for controlled venting of a chamber' proposed a new approach of maintaining the controlled environment within a substantially sealed chamber containing respiring produce. The method is carried out without monitoring the carbon dioxide level in the sealed chamber and involved monitoring the oxygen level in the chamber and admitting ambient air into the sealed chamber when the oxygen level is detected to have fallen below an oxygen set point. Carbon dioxide is removed from the sealed chamber at a predetermined rate by way of a selected quantity of carbon dioxide absorbing material stored within the sealed container. The predetermined rate in the process is selected before the storage/journey such that the carbon dioxide concentration within the sealed chamber will not exceed a predetermined amount.

Other known methods for controlling the atmosphere within a sealed container utilise a permeable membrane within the sealed container which membrane is selective for removing certain gases while retaining others. That is, the membrane allows some gases to pass through, whilst excluding or minimising the passage of certain other gases. The selective membrane is installed in the sealed container as a liner layer which defines a buffer zone which can be opened to the ambient air outside the sealed container, or manipulated in other ways. Imposing a constant partial pressure difference across the membrane has the effect of selective removal of gases into the buffer zone. Such techniques advantageously avoid the need for carbon dioxide absorbing materials.

Applicant’s invention described in WO 2014/066952 entitled ‘Improvements in control of gas composition within a container’ describes a method controlling the atmosphere within a substantially sealed container by removing carbon dioxide from the sealed chamber of a shipping container using a membrane system. In this publication, the Applicant proposed a method of controlling the atmosphere in which air from within the sealed chamber was passed through the membrane system to remove CO2 whilst the air pressure inside the chamber was actively monitored. In response to a change in pressure, a controller would actuate an inlet valve on the shipping container to introduce external air into the container in an amount to result in the air within the sealed chamber having a set gas composition.

The present invention provides a new method of controlling the environment in a container, a new container apparatus, and apparatus for controlling the environment in the container.

Reference to any prior art in the specification is not an acknowledgment or suggestion that this prior art forms part of the common general knowledge in any jurisdiction or that this prior art could reasonably be expected to be understood, regarded as relevant, and/or combined with other pieces of prior art by a skilled person in the art.

Summary of the invention

In a first aspect of the invention, there is provided a method for operating a refrigerated shipping container containing respiring produce, the method including: passing a cooled C0 2 -rich air stream from an internal environment within the shipping container through a CO2 selective membrane of a membrane system to produce a cooled C0 2 -lean air stream and a C0 2 -rich permeate stream; retaining or returning the cooled C0 2 -lean air stream to the internal environment; and exhausting the C0 2 -rich permeate stream to an external environment outside of the shipping container; drawing external air or permitting external air to pass into the shipping container through an air vent with a pre-set fixed opening of the shipping container in a volume to at least balance a volume difference between the cooled C0 2 -rich air stream and the cooled C0 2 -lean air stream; wherein the membrane system is operated according to a pre-set mode, and the pre-set mode is independent of a measured gas concentration or pressure of the internal environment; and the pre-set fixed opening of the vent is selected based on one or more characteristics of the respiring produce and the pre-set mode of the membrane system.

An advantage of this method is that less ambient air is introduced into the refrigerated shipping container to maintain desired 0 2 and C0 2 levels in comparison with a refrigerated shipping container system that is the same, but either lacks the membrane system or has a membrane system that is not operating in accordance with the invention. Reducing the amount of ambient air into the system also reduces the amount of energy carried into the system with that ambient air, and consequently a refrigeration system of the refrigerated shipping container has lower load requirements. In certain embodiments, an additional benefit is that the overall energy requirement to operate the refrigerated shipping container is reduced. Thus, in one or more forms, the invention is a method of reducing the refrigeration requirements of a shipping container in the absence of a controlled atmosphere control system.

As disclosed above, the pre-set fixed opening of the vent is selected based on one or more characteristics of the respiring produce and one or more operating parameters of the membrane system. Preferably, the one or more characteristics of the respiring produce include at least the respiration rate of the respiring produce and the mass or volume of the respiring produce.

In one or more forms of the invention, the method includes opening or partially opening the vent to the pre-set opening size based on one or more characteristics of the respiring produce and one or more operating parameters of the membrane system.

In an embodiment, the vent is operated independently of a controller or control system.

As disclosed above, the membrane system is operated according to a pre-set mode, and the pre-set mode is independent of a measured gas concentration or pressure. By way of clarification, the pre-set mode is not adjusted, altered, or controlled (such as by a controller or control system) in response to a measured gas concentration (e.g. CO2, N 2 , O2 concentrations), or pressure of the internal environment.

This method of operation is useful for reducing the refrigeration requirements of a shipping container. The inventors have also found that in certain forms of the invention the overall energy requirements of the shipping container can be further reduced.

There are certain times when the air temperature of the external environment has decreased (for example overnight) such that the power consumption by the membrane system exceeds the heat load of incoming air. In such instances, it is preferable to deactivate the membrane system and instead maintain the C0 2 and 0 2 concentrations through fresh air exchange. Thus, in one form of the invention, the air temperature of the internal environment is monitored and the air temperature of the external environment is monitored. In an embodiment, the method further includes: determining a temperature differential between the air temperature of the exterior environment and the air temperature of the internal environment, and deactivating the membrane system if the temperature differential is below a threshold value. Preferably, the method further includes opening a secondary vent or valve to draw additional external air or permit additional external air to pass into the shipping container through the secondary vent or valve at a volumetric flow rate sufficient to maintain CO 2 removal at the pre-set mode of the membrane system. The secondary vent or valve may be operated at constant flow or varied in accordance with a desired regime, e.g. the secondary vent or valve is an adjustable vent or valve. More preferably, the method additionally includes reactivating the membrane system when the temperature differential has increased to or above the threshold value. For avoidance of doubt, the membrane system is operated according to the pre-set mode upon reactivation.

In one or more embodiments of the invention, the pre-set mode is independent of any measured variables of the internal environment. By way of clarification, the pre-set mode is not adjusted, altered, or controlled (such as by a controller or control system) in response to any measured variable of the internal environment, such variables include (but are not limited to) gas concentration (e.g. CO 2 , N 2 , O 2 concentrations), pressure, temperature, air flow rates through an inlet/outlet of the vent, etc.

In one or more embodiments, the method includes initially selecting the pre-set mode according to one or more characteristics of the respiring produce. In such embodiments, the pre-set mode is selected from the group consisting of: a pre-set constant gas throughput, a pre-set variable gas throughput, a pre-set constant electrical load, a pre-set variable electrical load, a pre-set constant pressure differential between an inlet and an outlet of the membrane system, a pre-set variable pressure differential between an inlet and an outlet of the membrane system, a pre-set constant pump speed on a pump associated with the retentate side of the membrane, or a pre-set variable pump speed on a pump associated with a retentate side of the membrane. For avoidance of doubt, in the case of a pre-set variable operating strategy (whether gas throughput, electrical load, pressure differential, or pump speed), the membrane system is configured to be controlled and operated by a controller or control system to implement the pre-set variable operating strategy independent of any measured variables of the internal environment. In alternative embodiments, the pre-set mode is additionally independent of one or more characteristics of the respiring produce. In such embodiments, it is preferred that the pre-set mode is a fixed mode of operation. That is, the pre-set mode is not adjusted, altered, or otherwise controlled (such as by a controller or control system) in response to a measured or modelled characteristic or change in characteristic of the respiring produce. More preferably, the fixed mode of operation is selected from: a pre set constant gas throughput, a pre-set constant electrical load, a pre-set constant pressure differential between an inlet and an outlet of the membrane system, a pre-set constant pump speed on a pump associated with the retentate side of the membrane. Still more preferably, the method further includes an initial step of activating the membrane system at the fixed mode of operation.

In an embodiment, the membrane system is operated independently of a controller or control system.

It will be appreciated that in one or more forms of the invention, the membrane system includes a retentate side gas circulation system. The retentate side gas circulation system may include one or more pumps, such as one or more pumps located upstream of the CO2 selective membrane and/or one or more pumps located downstream of the C0 2 selective membrane. While variable drive speed pumps may be used, it is preferred that each pump is operated at a single speed. Given this, it is further preferable that each pump is a single speed pump.

In an embodiment, the membrane system includes a single pump retentate side gas circulation system for passing the cooled C0 2 -rich air stream to the C0 2 selective membrane and returning the cooled C0 2 -lean air stream to the internal environment. In one form of this embodiment, the single pump is located upstream of the C0 2 selective membrane and the step of passing the cooled (XVrich air through the C0 2 selective membrane includes: providing air to the C0 2 selective membrane under positive pressure. In an alternative form of this embodiment, the single pump is located downstream of the C0 2 selective membrane and the step of passing the cooled CO2- rich air stream through the C0 2 selective membrane includes drawing air through the CO2 selective membrane under negative pressure. It will be appreciated that in one or more forms of the invention, the membrane system includes a permeate side gas circulation system, also commonly referred to as a sweep gas circulation system. In such embodiments, the C0 2 -rich permeate stream is a C0 2 -rich sweep stream. The permeate side gas circulation system may include one or more sweep pumps, such as one or more sweep pumps located upstream of an inlet to a permeate side of the C0 2 selective membrane and/or one or more sweep pumps located downstream of an outlet to the permeate side of the C0 2 selective membrane. Although it is preferred that the permeate side gas circulation system includes the one or more pumps downstream of the outlet. While variable drive speed sweep pumps may be used, it is preferred that each sweep pump is operated at a single speed. Given this, it is further preferable that each sweep pump is a single speed pump.

In an embodiment, the method further includes replacing a portion of C0 2 -rich air from the internal environment with fresh air through the open air vent. Preferably, the air vent has a pre-set opening size selected according to one or more characteristics of the respiring produce (e.g. a type, mass, volume etc.). More preferably, the pre-set sized opening is manually set and is independent of any monitored condition of the internal environment. Alternatively, the pre-set sized opening is configured to be adjusted by a controller in response to a monitored condition of the internal environment.

In an embodiment, the refrigerated shipping container is not operated under controlled atmosphere conditions. Preferably, the refrigerated container does not include a controlled atmosphere control system.

In a second aspect of the invention, there is provided a refrigerated shipping container configured to be operated according to the method of any one of the preceding claims.

In a third aspect of the invention, there is provided a refrigerated shipping container configured to transport respiring produce, the refrigerated shipping container including: a membrane system including: a gas inlet open to an internal environment within the shipping container; a first gas outlet open to the internal environment within the shipping container; a second gas outlet open to an external environment outside the shipping container; a CO2 selective membrane configured to: receive a cooled C0 2 -rich air stream from the internal environment via the gas inlet, and to separate at least a portion of CO2 from the cooled C0 2 -rich air stream to form a cooled C0 2 -lean air stream on a first side of the CO2 selective membrane and a C0 2 -rich permeate stream on a second side of the C0 2 selective membrane, and discharge the cooled C0 2 -lean air stream through the first gas outlet and the C0 2 -rich permeate stream through the second gas outlet, and gas circulation means configured to pass the cooled C0 2 -rich air from the internal environment through the C0 2 selective membrane; wherein the membrane system is configured to be operated according to a pre-set mode, and the pre-set mode is independent of a measured gas concentration or pressure of the internal environment; and an air vent with an opening, the air vent configured to be opened to a selected pre-set fixed opening based on one or more characteristics of the respiring produce and the pre-set mode of the membrane system.

In an embodiment, the pre-set mode is operated independently of a controller or control system in response to a change in gas composition or pressure within the internal environment. That is, the pre-set mode is not configured to be adjusted, altered, or controlled (such as by a controller or control system) in response to a measured gas concentration or pressure of the internal environment.

In an embodiment, the membrane system is deactivatable in response to an air temperature differential between an external environment (outside the refrigerated shipping container) and an internal environment within the shipping container being at or below a set point value. Preferably, the container further includes a secondary vent or valve that is configured to be opened to draw additional external air or permit additional external air to pass into the shipping container through the secondary vent or valve at a volumetric flow rate sufficient to maintain CO 2 removal at the pre-set mode of the membrane system.

In an embodiment, the pre-set mode is independent of any measured variables of the internal environment.

It will be appreciated that in one or more forms of the invention, the membrane system includes a retentate side gas circulation system. The retentate side gas circulation system may include one or more pumps, such as one or more pumps located upstream of the CO 2 selective membrane and/or one or more pumps located downstream of the CO 2 selective membrane. While variable drive speed pumps may be used, it is preferred that each pump is operated at a single speed. Given this, it is further preferable that each pump is a single speed pump.

In an embodiment, the membrane system includes a single pump retentate side gas circulation system for passing the cooled C0 2 -rich air stream to the CO 2 selective membrane and returning the cooled (XVlean air stream to the internal environment. In one form of this embodiment, the single pump is located upstream of the C0 2 selective membrane and the step of passing the cooled (XVrich air through the CO 2 selective membrane includes: providing air to the CO 2 selective membrane under positive pressure. In an alternative form of this embodiment, the single pump is located downstream of the CO 2 selective membrane and the step of passing the cooled CO 2 - rich air stream through the C0 2 selective membrane includes drawing air through the CO 2 selective membrane under negative pressure.

It will be appreciated that in one or more forms of the invention, the membrane system includes a permeate side gas circulation system, also commonly referred to as a sweep gas circulation system. In such embodiments, the C0 2 -rich permeate stream is a C0 2 -rich sweep stream. The permeate side gas circulation system may include one or more sweep pumps, such as one or more sweep pumps located upstream of an inlet to a permeate side of the CO 2 selective membrane and/or one or more sweep pumps located downstream of an outlet to the permeate side of the CO 2 selective membrane. Although it is preferred that the permeate side gas circulation system includes the one or more pumps downstream of the outlet. While variable drive speed sweep pumps may be used, it is preferred that each sweep pump is operated at a single speed. Given this, it is further preferable that each sweep pump is a single speed pump.

In an embodiment, the vent is operated independently of a controller or control system.

In an embodiment, the refrigerated shipping container does not include a controlled atmosphere control system.

In a fourth aspect of the invention, there is provided a C0 2 selective gas membrane module when used in a refrigerated shipping container that does not include a controlled atmosphere control system, the membrane module including: a mount for installing the membrane module into the refrigerated shipping container; a gas inlet configured to be open to an internal environment within the shipping container; a first gas outlet configured to be open to the internal environment within the shipping container; a second gas outlet configured to be open to an external environment outside the shipping container; a CO 2 selective membrane configured to: receive a cooled C0 2 -rich air stream from the internal environment via the gas inlet, and to separate at least a portion of CO 2 from the cooled C0 2 -rich air stream to form a cooled C0 2 -lean air stream on a first side of the C0 2 selective membrane and a C0 2 -rich permeate stream on a second side of the CO 2 selective membrane, and discharge the cooled C0 2 -lean air stream through the first gas outlet and the C0 2 -rich permeate stream through the second gas outlet; and gas circulation means configured to pass the cooled C0 2 -rich air from the internal environment through the CO 2 selective membrane; wherein the membrane system is configured to be operated according to a pre set mode and the pre-set mode is independent of a measured gas concentration or pressure of an internal environment of the shipping container.

In an embodiment, the pre-set mode is independent of any measured variable of the internal environment.

It will be appreciated that in one or more forms of the invention, the membrane system includes a retentate side gas circulation system. The retentate side gas circulation system may include one or more pumps, such as one or more pumps located upstream of the CO 2 selective membrane and/or one or more pumps located downstream of the CO 2 selective membrane. While variable drive speed pumps may be used, it is preferred that each pump is operated at a single speed. Given this, it is further preferable that each pump is a single speed pump.

In an embodiment, the membrane system includes a single pump retentate side gas circulation system for passing the cooled C0 2 -rich air stream to the CO 2 selective membrane and returning the cooled (XVlean air stream to the internal environment. In one form of this embodiment, the single pump is located upstream of the C0 2 selective membrane and the step of passing the cooled (XVrich air through the CO 2 selective membrane includes: providing air to the CO 2 selective membrane under positive pressure. In an alternative form of this embodiment, the single pump is located downstream of the CO 2 selective membrane and the step of passing the cooled CO 2 - rich air stream through the C0 2 selective membrane includes drawing air through the CO 2 selective membrane under negative pressure.

It will be appreciated that in one or more forms of the invention, the membrane system includes a permeate side gas circulation system, also commonly referred to as a sweep gas circulation system. In such embodiments, the C0 2 -rich permeate stream is a C0 2 -rich sweep stream. The permeate side gas circulation system may include one or more sweep pumps, such as one or more sweep pumps located upstream of an inlet to a permeate side of the CO 2 selective membrane and/or one or more sweep pumps located downstream of an outlet to the permeate side of the CO2 selective membrane. Although it is preferred that the permeate side gas circulation system includes the one or more pumps downstream of the outlet. While variable drive speed sweep pumps may be used, it is preferred that each sweep pump is operated at a single speed. Given this, it is further preferable that each sweep pump is a single speed pump.

In a fifth aspect of the invention, there is provided a method of installing a system according to the fourth aspect of the invention in a refrigerated shipping container that does not include a controlled atmosphere control system.

In a sixth aspect of the invention, there is provided a method of modifying a controlled atmosphere refrigerated shipping container to form a refrigerated shipping container according to the second or third aspects, the method including removing from the controlled atmosphere control system from the controlled atmosphere refrigerated shipping container.

In a seventh aspect of the invention, there is provided a method for reducing refrigeration energy requirements in operation of a refrigerated shipping container containing respiring produce, the method including: a membrane exhaust step of drawing and/or driving air from the interior of the shipping container through a C0 2 selective membrane of a membrane system installed in the shipping container, and exhausting the resulting (X rich downstream air stream to the exterior of the shipping container; and an atmosphere replenishment step of causing or permitting ambient air from the exterior of the shipping container to pass into the container to balance the volume of air lost through the membrane; wherein the method is conducted in the absence of controlled atmosphere operation, such that neither the membrane exhaust step nor the atmosphere replenishment step is conducted in accordance with the monitoring of a gas concentration or pressure in the interior of the shipping container.

The method disclosed above may include one or more features of the methods previously described. In an embodiment, neither the membrane exhaust step nor the atmosphere replenishment step is conducted in accordance with any prevailing conditions in the interior of the shipping container.

In this way, the fact that the membrane exhaust step has the effect of reducing the CO2 concentration in the interior of the shipping container provides that the atmosphere replenishment step requires a smaller volume of ambient air to be introduced in order to maintain the CO2 concentration at an acceptable level for the respiring produce than would otherwise be the case, irrespective of the lack of active control of the membrane exhaust step or the atmosphere replenishment step (i.e. the shipping container need not be provided with any means for monitoring CO2 concentration or other gas constituents for such control). This is in marked contrast to known membrane systems used in shipping container operation, in which active control is required.

The invention contemplates application of the methods and systems described above to other environments in which respiring content is transported or stored, or there are other advantages in such enclosure for effecting controlled atmosphere content due to such respiration. Such environments include: buildings, public transport (such as cars, buses, trains, planes, boats etc. which contain respiring individuals), and the storage and transport of livestock. In view of the above, there is disclosed herein a method for reducing cooling energy requirements in operation of a cooled enclosure containing respiring content, the method including: a membrane exhaust step of drawing and/or driving air from the interior of the cooled enclosure through a CO2 selective membrane of a membrane system installed in the cooled enclosure, and exhausting the resulting (X rich downstream air stream to the exterior of the cooled enclosure; and an atmosphere replenishment step of causing or permitting ambient air from the exterior of the cooled enclosure to pass into the cooled enclosure to balance the volume of air lost through the membrane; wherein the method is conducted in the absence of controlled atmosphere operation, such that neither the membrane exhaust step nor the atmosphere replenishment step is conducted in accordance with the monitoring of a gas concentration or pressure in the interior of the cooled enclosure. The method disclosed above may include one or more features of the methods previously described.

There is further disclosed herein a method for operating a cooled enclosure containing respiring content, the method including: passing a cooled C0 2 -rich air stream from an internal environment within the enclosure through a C0 2 selective membrane of a membrane system to produce a cooled C0 2 -lean air stream and a C0 2 -rich permeate stream; retaining or returning the cooled C0 2 -lean air stream to the internal environment; and exhausting the C0 2 -rich permeate stream to an external environment outside of the enclosure; drawing external air or permitting external air to pass into the cooled enclosure through an air vent with a pre-set fixed opening of the enclosure in a volume to at least balance a volume difference between the cooled C0 2 -rich air stream and the cooled C0 2 -lean air stream; wherein the membrane system is operated according to a pre-set mode, and the pre-set mode is independent of a measured gas concentration or pressure of the internal environment; and the pre-set fixed opening of the vent is selected based on one or more characteristics of the respiring content and the pre-set mode of the membrane system. The method disclosed above may include one or more features of the methods previously described. As used herein, except where the context requires otherwise, the term "comprise" and variations of the term, such as "comprising", "comprises" and "comprised", are not intended to exclude further additives, components, integers or steps. Further aspects of the present invention and further embodiments of the aspects described in the preceding paragraphs will become apparent from the following description, given by way of example and with reference to the accompanying drawings.

Brief description of the drawings

Figure 1 is a photograph of a refrigeration panel of a refrigerated shipping container.

Figure 2 is a schematic of a membrane separation system for installation into a refrigerated shipping container.

Figure 3 is a schematic illustrating one embodiment of the membrane separation system. Figure 4 is a graph showing modelled results of equilibrium CO2 concentration within a shipping container as a function of membrane surface area for bananas and avocados for different respiration rates.

Detailed description of the embodiments

The invention relates to a method and/or apparatus for storing and/or transporting respiring produce in an unsealed refrigerated shipping container without an actively controlled atmosphere. Respiring produce produces CO2 which needs to be removed from the internal environment of the refrigerated shipping container to preserve the freshness of the respiring produce. Such respiring produce typically includes fruit, vegetables, plants, seedlings, plant materials, and the like. It will be appreciated that the methodology and system is applied without a

‘controlled atmosphere’ regime. A controlled atmosphere regime is associated with a substantially sealed reefer, and is one in which one or more conditions of the internal atmosphere are monitored, and operation of the membrane system is controlled (such as via a controller or control system) to maintain the one or more monitored conditions at a set point or within a set point range. An example of a controlled atmosphere regime is the monitoring of CO2 concentration within a sealed reefer, and controlling the operation of the membrane system to maintain the C02 concentration within the reefer within an acceptable concentration range. In contrast with this, the invention of the method resides, in part, in removing CO2 from the internal environment of the reefer while minimising the loss of cooled air to the external environment, and the introduction of external air, and hence heat energy into the internal environment of the reefer. As a consequence, the load drawn by a refrigeration system to cool the air is reduced. This method is performed in the absence of a controlled atmosphere regime.

This method finds particular application in unsealed reefers, such as those that have an external vent. A refrigeration panel 100 of a reefer is illustrated in Figure 1. The standard refrigeration panel 100 includes an air vent 102 which has two openings that define an inlet and an outlet (not shown). A rotatable vent cover 104 is located over the air vent 102, and this rotatable vent cover 104 can be rotated to open, close, or adjust the size of the inlet and outlet in the air vent 102 for the purpose of fresh air exchange. In Figure 1 , the rotatable vent cover 104 is shown in the closed position. Flowever, the rotatable vent cover 104 includes two openings 106A and 106B which correspond with the openings (not shown) in the air vent 102. The refrigeration panel also includes a refrigeration system 108 for cooling air within the reefer.

The vent cover 104 includes gradations 110 which relate the size of the inlet and outlet openings to a corresponding fresh air exchange rate during standard operation. Larger inlet and outlet openings provide for a greater fresh air exchange rate. The fresh air exchange (and thus the size of the inlets and outlets) is dependent on the respiration rate of the respiring product. That is, respiring products that have a high respiration rate require a greater fresh air exchange rate than respiring products with a low respiration rate. At this point, it is important to note that if the reefer is intended for climate controlled operation, then the reefer is sealed by removing the rotatable vent cover 104, and installing a climate controller and valves over the vent openings to seal the vent. As a result, a sealed climate controlled reefer does not include a permanently open vent.

During the unsealed storage and/or transport of respiring produce, the respiring produce consumes oxygen and produces carbon dioxide. If the oxygen levels and carbon dioxide levels fall outside of a particular range, the quality of the respiring produce can rapidly deteriorate. To address this, and as alluded to above, the rotatable vent cover 104 is adjusted (by rotation) so as to provide inlet and outlet openings of a suitable size to permit an appropriate rate of gas exchange between the outside environment and the internal environment within the reefer to maintain suitable oxygen and carbon dioxide levels. The required rate of gas exchange is determined from the respiration rate of the respiring produce (being dependent on the type of respiring produce), and the appropriately sized opening in the air vent 102 is selected (e.g. by way of a lookup table) to provide the required rate of gas exchange.

The gas exchange process generally results in cool C0 2 -rich, 0 2 -lean air from within the reefer being exchanged for air at ambient temperature and composition. This is advantageous in that CO2 is removed from the system, and fresh O2 is introduced into the system. However, introducing air at ambient temperature introduces heat energy into the system, and raises the internal temperature with the reefer. Increasing the temperature has a deleterious effect on the respiring produce. Thus, the refrigeration system 108 must remove this additional energy that has been introduced into the reefer.

The inventors have included a membrane separation system into the refrigeration panel 100 of the reefer. Figure 2 provides a schematic of a membrane separation system 200. The membrane separation system 200 includes a top bracket 202 and a bottom bracket 204 for mounting the system 200 inside a reefer. The system 200 further includes a circulation system that includes at least a lumen pump 206 for circulating C0 2 -rich air from within the reefer, to the retentate side of the membrane 208 for C0 2 removal, and then back into the reefer. The system 200 also includes a sweep pump assembly 210 for providing a stream of sweep gas (ambient air) on the permeate side of the membrane 208 such that the CO2 that passes from the retentate side of the membrane 208 to the permeate side of the membrane and is then entrained in the sweep gas. As part of installing the membrane separation system 200, blank panel 1 12 of the refrigeration panel 100 is removed and replaced with a membrane scrubber panel (see item 312 of Figure 3) which includes an air inlet 314 and air outlet 316 for the sweep gas. The inclusion of the membrane system 200 into the reefer reduces the volume of gas exchange through the vent to attenuate a reduction in O2 concentration and an increase in C0 2 concentration in the cooled air within the reefer due to the respiration of the respiring produce. The cooled C0 2 -rich air within the reefer is cycled through the membrane system at a pre-set rate (determined based on a characteristic of the respiring produce) to remove a portion of the C0 2 with the cooled air, the C0 2 -lean cooled air is then returned to the internal environment of the reefer. The actual process of gas exchange involves the C0 2 transferring from the C0 2 -rich air from a retentate side of the membrane across the gas exchange membrane and into a sweep gas stream on the permeate side of the membrane in which the C0 2 is entrained and subsequently exhausted outside the reefer. The sweep gas stream is essentially an air stream, which air is taken from outside the reefer. Because the C0 2 rich gas is low in oxygen, and the sweep gas is relatively high in oxygen (i.e. containing about 21 % oxygen) a partial pressure differential for oxygen exists across the membrane. As a result, and although the membrane is selective for CO2, in some cases (depending on the type of membrane) oxygen migrates from the sweep gas on the‘permeate’ side of the membrane across the membrane to the‘retentate’ side of the membrane where it is entrained in the now C0 2 -lean cooled air. This helps to increase the oxygen concentration within the reefer.

Additional oxygen is introduced into the reefer via the conventional gas exchange process that is associated with the vent. However, as the C0 2 is being removed from and O2 is being introduced into the cooled air within the reefer via the membrane separation system, a lower rate of gas exchange through the vent is required. This means that less cool air is lost to the external environment via the vent and consequently less warm air is introduced into the internal environment of the reefer. Given this, the air within the reefer has a lower cooling requirement which reduces the load on the refrigeration system (e.g. the compressor of the refrigeration system). In practice, as a lower rate of gas exchange between the outside environment and the internal environment within the reefer is required, the vent cover can be rotated to reduce the size of the inlet and outlet openings in the vent (again determined by, for example, using look-up table designed for use with the system of the present invention). A process flow diagram illustrating one embodiment of the membrane separation system 300 is provided in Figure 3. The system 300 includes: a membrane scrubbing unit 302 including a hollow fibre membrane filtration unit, a lumen inlet 304 for receiving gas from the internal environment of a shipping container, and a lumen outlet 306 for returning filtered gas to the internal environment of the shipping container; a lumen pump 308 for circulating gas from the internal environment of the shipping container and through a retentate side of the membrane scrubbing unit 302. The system 300 also includes a sweep gas assembly that includes: a sweep pump 310 for circulating sweep gas though a permeate side of the membrane scrubbing unit 302 via sweep gas inlet 318 and sweep gas outlet 320, wherein the sweep pump 310 is in gas communication with a scrubber panel assembly 312 having an ambient air inlet port 314 and an exhaust port 316.

This membrane separation system 300 is installed in a reefer as discussed in relation to Figure 2. The operation of the system 300 of Figure 3 is briefly described below.

During shipping and/or storage of refrigerated respiring produce, the respiring produce consumes oxygen and produces carbon dioxide. The skilled person will appreciate that the degree of refrigeration and the rates of oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide production depend on one or more characteristics of the respiring produce. As previously discussed, to minimise degradation of the respiring produce, the oxygen and carbon dioxide concentrations should be maintained at appropriate levels. In a standard reefer, the vent cover (e.g. item 104 of Figure 1 ) is rotated to a particular sized opening to permit fresh air exchange at an appropriate rate to maintain the oxygen and carbon dioxide concentration at an appropriate level. However, in a reefer system including the membrane separation system 300, the membrane separation system 300 removes a portion of the carbon dioxide and may additionally introduce oxygen into the internal environment of the reefer. This allows a smaller vent opening to be selected which reduces the rate of fresh air exchange, and thus minimises the loss of cool air and the introduction of heat energy from ambient fresh air.

In operation, lumen pump 308 draws cooled C0 2 -rich, 0 2 -lean gas from the internal environment of a reefer. The lumen pump 308 pushes this gas, under positive pressure, through the membrane scrubbing unit 302 via lumen inlet 304. Inside the membrane scrubbing unit 302, the gas is forced through lumens of a hollow fibre membrane separation unit. The membrane lumens are formed from a C0 2 gas selective membrane material, which results in the selective transfer of C0 2 across the lumen wall from a retentate side of the lumen to a permeate side of the lumen. For reasons that will be further outlined below, 0 2 may be transferred from the permeate side to the retentate side of the lumens. This results in a cooled C0 2 -lean gas stream (which may include additional 0 2 ) on the retentate side of the lumen. The cooled C0 2 -lean gas is then returned to the internal environment of the reefer via lumen outlet 306. In this embodiment, the downstream ends of the lumens are exposed directly to the lumen outlet 306 (e.g. there is no pump on the downstream side to draw the cooled air through the membrane system 300). Notwithstanding the above, the skilled addressee will appreciate that the membrane system may include an additional pump downstream of the lumen outlet 306 for drawing air through the membrane scrubbing unit 302. In another form, the membrane separation system 300 does not include a lumen pump upstream of the lumen inlet 304, and instead includes a lumen pump downstream of the lumen outlet 306 to draw gas from the internal environment through the membrane scrubbing unit 302 under negative pressure.

The sweep gas assembly provides a sweep gas (e.g. ambient air drawn from outside of the reefer) to the permeate side of the membrane scrubbing unit 302. During operation, sweep gas pump 310 applies a negative pressure to the sweep gas assembly to draw ambient air from outside the reefer via inlet port 314 and into the membrane scrubbing unit 302 via sweep gas inlet 318. The sweep gas is drawn through the sweep gas inlet 318 and along the permeate side of the membrane lumens to entrain and remove C0 2 that has filtered across the membrane lumens from the cooled C0 2 -rich, 0 2 -lean gas on the retentate side of the lumen resulting in a C0 2 -rich sweep gas. As the sweep gas has a relatively higher 0 2 concentration than the gas on the retentate side of the membrane, an 0 2 partial pressure gradient exists which drives a portion of the 0 2 in the sweep gas through the membrane and into the retentate gas. The C0 2 -rich sweep gas is then drawn through sweep gas outlet 320, through sweep gas pump 310, and then discharged under positive pressure through exhaust port 316 to an environment outside the reefer. It will be appreciated that a variety of different membranes may be used in the membrane gas scrubber.

In an embodiment, the membrane has a selectivity which allows carbon dioxide gas to permeate through the membrane element at a higher rate than oxygen and nitrogen. Preferably the membrane has a C0 2 :0 2 selectivity ratio of at least 5:2. More preferably, the membrane has a C0 2 :0 2 selectivity ratio of at least 4:1. Even more preferably, the membrane has a C0 2 :0 2 selectivity ratio of at least 5:1. While there is no particular upper limit to the C02:02 selectivity ratio, it is desirable that some 02 is able to transfer across the membrane. Thus, in practice it is preferred that the membrane has a ( > 2 :0 2 selectivity ratio of up to 15:1. Additionally or alternatively, it is preferred that the membrane has a C0 2 :N 2 selectivity ratio of at least 5:1. More preferably, the membrane has a C0 2 :N 2 selectivity ratio of at least 7:1. Even more preferably, the membrane has a C0 2 :N 2 selectivity ratio of at least 14:1. While there is no particular upper limit to the C02:N 2 selectivity ratio, practically the membrane may have a C02:N 2 selectivity ratio of up to 50:1.

Membranes contemplated include an overall permeability for CO2 of about 3000 Barrer and comprise a thickness of about 35 pm to 45 pm. Preferred membranes have about 3100 Barrers of permeability for C0 2 and 40 pm in thickness. Therefore the permeability per unit thickness for a suitable membrane is about 78 Barrers/pm. This is a very high permeability. However, other membrane materials are contemplated to be useful. One type of suitable membrane for use with preferred embodiments of the present invention is manufactured from Polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS), which has moderate selectivity to C0 2 , at about between 4 and 5, and a C0 2 /N 2 selectivity of between about 10 and 1 1. Other membranes, including non-silicon membranes, may also be used. Still further, the invention contemplates the use of cellulose acetate, which has an overall permeability for CO2 of 6.3 Barrer. This is a large difference, but gas transfer can be improved by altering the thickness of the membrane or by increasing the total surface area of the membrane.

It will be understood that the invention disclosed and defined in this specification extends to all alternative combinations of two or more of the individual features mentioned or evident from the text or drawings. All of these different combinations constitute various alternative aspects of the invention.

Example

Example 1 The method of the invention was evaluated for storage of onion (dry), melon, apple (Fuji), potato, sweet corn, and grape produce using a PDMS gas exchange membrane (GEM) system. Table 2 summarises the results below, which indicate that the method and systems of the present invention provide substantive energy savings.

1 1ncluding Load ot etM System