Cargo Ships, Refrigeration, and Fuel

By PSU EcoMerge Capstone - 11:05 PM

Globalization has been in full swing for several decades now.  Every conceivable item is being shipped from one area of the globe to the other.  Our quarter's topic wants us to specifically focus on the subject of traveling food.  From a global perspective, foods are some of the most traded commodities.  For this entry, I thought it would be good to look at the technologies which allow foods to be traded across the world.

When discussing how the modern day globalization machine is possible, we can not get around talking about fossil fuels.  Fossil fuels drive everything.  Right now, they are the most powerful, cheapest, accessible, and energy packed sources of fuel we have.  From this fundamental truth, we can see how it is possible to move food from one part of the world to another.   

When it comes to traveling of food, international trade is possible because of two major innovations: the modern cargo ship and refrigeration.  The modern cargo ship is a beast of a machine.  These ships come in different classes, they can be over 400 meters long, and weigh over 320,000 dead weight tons (DWT).  Some cargo ships can carry a variety of cargo (including types of food), but others are specialized.

In the case of perishable foods, Reefer Vessels are used.  A Reefer ship is a type of cargo ship designed to control the temperature and environment of the cargo it carries.  When commodities such as fruit are moved across the ocean, they must be kept cold in order to prevent over ripening.  To do this, the cargo is not only refrigerated, but it is also placed in an almost all nitrogen atmosphere.  In order to monitor the ship's cargo during travel, remote monitoring systems are put into place.  This helps ensure the food arrives as fresh as possible and allows the shipping companies historical data so they can improve their shipping capabilities.

With this technology and cheap energy (fossil fuels) at companies' disposal, trading food and every other shippable item over seas has become common place.  However, moving into the future, relying so heavily on a finite resource is not going to be the best strategy.  Most all of these trading vessels are engineered specifically to run on fossil fuels.  Some day, it will be too costly to rely on this sources of energy and people will need to use other sources.  When Fossil fuels become more scarce, buying food locally will become more cost effective and shipping goods will become a trickier task.  

Sources:

http://www.crosstree.info/Documents/reefer%20vessels.pdf
http://maritime-connector.com/wiki/ship-sizes/
http://breakingenergy.com/2013/09/20/are-fossil-fuels-necessary/


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