Grocery home delivery may rely on cold chain technology

Last-mile delivery of products ordered online is a thorny problem for merchants and consumers, and even more challenging for food retailers.

The innovative Phononic EV may be driving a new solution for delivering groceries efficiently and sustainably, while rivaling Amazon’s planned aerial drone package delivery system.

Phononic unveiled its e-car for sustainable last-mile delivery at the Home Delivery World Show in Philadelphia on August 8. 31. At this point, the vehicle is a functional proof of concept. It is not available in the market.

What happens next is in Sortimo’s hands. The two companies have formed a partnership to equip the Ford E-Transit (extended version) with reconfigurable shelves and create a cold chain delivery vehicle for grocery retailers to deliver via e-commerce without the risk of food spoilage.

Phononic’s new approach integrates thermoelectric-based cooling solutions into custom shelving. The partnership creates the first truly sustainable cold chain grocery delivery by transforming the electric van into an all-electric three-temperature vehicle.

Electric vehicles do not contain environmentally harmful synthetic refrigerants called hydrofluorocarbons or HFCs.

Phononic vice president and general manager Dana Krug told TechNewsWorld: “We could see that in 2023, we may see the ability to use three-temperature cooling in EV vans equipped with Phononic technology.”

a peak inside

Phononic’s first electric car comes with the company’s active cooling tote bag. Sortimo’s custom FR5 and SR5 rack carts are built-in to create an optimal and efficient way to store refrigerated, frozen and general merchandise orders all in one vehicle during grocery deliveries.

With the SR5, racks can be configured to fit any space to optimize payload and cargo capacity. As online ordering becomes the go-to option for consumers, all-electric technology can help grocers sustainably enhance their last-mile delivery fleets.

Phonon Temperature Control Tote Bag for Food Safety

Image credit: Phononic

According to Krug, this provides an avenue for same-day delivery while driving a strong ROI by increasing levels of customer loyalty and sustainability. Its technology is inherently a great mobile platform.

The delivery uses proprietary solid-state cooling technology instead of existing compressor-based mechanical systems that can fail. Its system’s compact heat pump provides more capacity in the same space. These controls reduce energy requirements.

Demand heats up

Market research shows that the demand for online food purchases is growing rapidly. Online grocery ordering and delivery is here to stay, making last-mile execution even more critical.

“Maintaining the perfect temperature for a range of food items — frozen, refrigerated and ambient — is forcing grocery retailers to rethink their entire operations,” Krueger observed.

“As online ordering becomes the first choice for consumers, all-electric technology can help grocers augment their last-mile delivery fleets in a more sustainable manner, offering the opportunity for same-day delivery, while increasing customer loyalty and levels through to drive strong ROI or sustainability,” he added.

If demand for grocery deliveries increases, more vehicles will be needed to make those deliveries. Industry reports predict that the number of delivery vehicles on the road will increase by 36% by 2030.

“We’re giving retailers the option to use electric vehicles that can be equipped with our solid-state cooling technology. This reduces the overall global warming potential (GWP), rather than increasing the problem of combustion vehicles equipped with compressor-based high-GWP refrigerants, ‘ he pointed out.

Krug added that the current grocery delivery process is not sustainable if retailers want to remain relevant and competitive. Today’s grocery delivery needs require a new approach that is sustainable and cost-effective.

Expect Phonon Fleet

According to Erik Nelson, Sortimo Fleet Mobility Solutions Sales Director, the goal is to develop innovative mobility solutions that help solve problems plaguing the environment.

“Partnering with Phononic to upgrade this one-of-a-kind, eco-friendly, all-electric vehicle allows us to participate in designing the first wave of truly sustainable grocery delivery,” he said.

Phononic is still testing the van to understand the impact on the vehicle’s range. But Krueger expects little impact.

Three-temperature electric vehicles are designed to increase the density of retailers’ distribution routes. Its unique design allows retailers to add general merchandise and temperature-controlled items in addition to groceries to optimize routes to reduce total delivery miles.

Krug noted that Phononic does not plan to sell the actual van. Working with Sortimo, his company saw an opportunity to retrofit the Ford E-Transit and other vans.

how does this work

A potential solution is Phononic’s cooling technology, which uses only water mixed with natural CO22, Kruger explained. Solid-state technology, portable freezing and refrigeration are now a reality, a combination that can keep anything cold, anywhere.

Due to environmental challenges such as shock and vibration, weight, size and power availability, truly portable freezing and refrigeration has never been possible. Its DC-powered cooling is controlled by solid-state technology, enabling battery-powered cooling.

This method provides consistent, reliable cooling over extended periods of time. This reality gives grocers confidence that the food will be kept safely at the desired temperature.

Phonon refrigeration system uses only carbon dioxide and water

Phononic’s cooling technology uses only CO2 and water as refrigerants, eliminating environmentally damaging HFCs. (Image credit: Phononic)

The system is monitored via Wi-Fi or cellular data to verify cold chain compliance. Solid state cooling can respond to remote commands for complete temperature control anytime, anywhere.

A key benefit is the ability to lower the temperature of the entire cargo container or specific compartments within the vehicle as needed. This optimizes energy usage while keeping the rest of the space at standard temperatures.

Thermoelectric technology has been around for over a century. What has so far been missing, according to Phononic, is integrating the engineering disciplines of pumping, moving and controlling heat to create a new thermoelectric system that is robust, flexible and efficient.

About vehicle adaptation

Phononic launched its EV delivery van project in June 2021. The vehicle is a fully functional test model, but can be adapted for other vans that require one last cold chain delivery.

Sortimo’s FR5 shelves are foldable and designed for express, courier and parcel services. The SR5 rack provides the flexibility to develop the vehicle interior in any configuration that facilitates the delivery operation. Combined, shelving options allow refrigerated, frozen and general merchandise orders to be transported in one vehicle.

Ford’s E-Transit offers up to 487.3 cubic feet of cargo space inside the high roof. It has an extended wheelbase configuration and can travel about 126 miles on a single charge.

The market has seen the clear advantage of EVs over combustion-based vehicles in delivering solutions. That’s one reason you see major retailers with multiple EV companies announcing thousands of electric vans for grocery delivery, Krug explained.

“The addition of Phononic’s tri-temperature cooling solution provides retailers with a cold chain solution that eliminates the need for dry ice or other passive cooling options, as well as the high-GWP blends used in compressor tri-temperature delivery vans,” he said.

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