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Last Update: 2013-10-02   Source: Research Headlines
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Save energy: commercial cooler chills beverage in just 50 seconds!

Commercial fridges and freezers keep food fresh and beverages cool. They are vital to modern commerce but troublesome for the environment. European industrial researchers set out to turn these power-hungry machines into a green technology of the future. The trademarked ‘V-Tex’ cooler they developed can chill a standard-sized beverage in under a minute. This is super-fast and means small quantities can be chilled on demand, saving huge amounts of energy.

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Supermarkets, convenience stores, service stations, restaurants, hotels … wherever you find people with money to spend, you will find fridges, freezers and chilled vending machines filled with goods to sell. They are convenient and essential for preserving and serving food and beverages that meet the expectations of customers and relevant authorities. But there is a big problem with these handy machines – they consume massive amounts of power.

That whirring sound coming from the corner of a convenience store is a drinks fridge struggling to cool itself when the door is continually opened or new stock is added that needs chilling. The vending machines and open refrigerated cabinets in supermarkets are also working overtime trying to keep their contents at recommended temperatures to preserve the quality.

Combined, commercial refrigerator/freezers like these are estimated to consume 85 TWh (terawatt hours) of electricity every year. That is roughly equivalent to the total yearly output of eight or nine late-generation nuclear power plants. This places a huge burden on power grids and the environment, and does not appear to be slowing.

The fact is, advances in refrigeration technology have struggled to offset the increasing number of units being introduced each year. For example, vending machine sales (EU-27) are expected to continue growing, from 126 000 in 2009 to 200 000 in 2020. This is where the EU-funded RapidCool project stepped in to tackle the challenge by developing a new technology for cooling beverages efficiently and rapidly which has attracted considerable interest from beverage-makers. The team realised the key to reversing this trend would be to break away from the traditional approach.

RapidCool focused on the problem of chilling small quantities on demand, taking away the need for heavily stocked chillers to run continuously in order to supply ‘cooled’ drinks during business hours. The technology developed delivers considerable energy savings while, at the same time, keeps up with growing consumer demand.

Game-changing green technology like this could have a direct impact on the EU’s 2020 commitment to reducing energy use and greenhouse gas emissions while improving overall energy security, the team suggests.

EU Member States are preparing a combination of voluntary and mandatory initiatives to force a step change in energy consumption and the use of commercial refrigerated equipment. Probably the most prominent of these is the Energy Using Products (EUP) Directive which is expected to enter into force in 2014.

Up to 90% energy saving

RapidCool developed an autonomous, modular-cooling apparatus for cooling drink cans and bottles from room temperature to around 4°C in some 50 seconds. The project’s trademarked V-Tex technology recorded energy savings of 80-90% compared with open-front commercial refrigerators. Their modular system is easy to clean (and thus to meet hygiene standards), simple to use, and has enhanced safety functions.

Although designed to work as a stand-alone unit, the cooling chamber can also be integrated into existing self-serve chillers. This has proved a real innovation, according to the team, and could potentially replace most, if not all, open-cabinet-style drinks fridges used around the world.

With V-Tex, notes the team, you get a cold drink every time with considerable reductions in energy use, therefore V-Tex not only matches but surpasses existing consumer expectations. It meets a broad spectrum of end-user requirements and has thus gained considerable interest from major corporations, including a leading global distributor of beer.

Agreements are in place to manufacture the system, and a family of related products are under way which target domestic use as well as commercial/retail applications. Two patents have already been granted, with two more pending. Kelvin Hall, founder and managing director of Enviro-Cool Ltd (UK), who owns the patents, says: “These patents were filed worldwide because of the massive appeal and environmental benefits of this green technology. The RapidCool project will be significantly beneficial to all SMEs involved.”


Project details

  • Project acronym: RapidCool
  • Participants: Slovenia (Coordinator), Belgium, Spain, Netherlands, United Kingdom
  • Project FP7 262101
  • Total costs: €1 187 580
  • EU contribution: € 903 276
  • Duration: January 2011 - December 2012

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