Moving liquid foods
Sprawling suburbs and industrialisation mean less land available for farming. Food is now typically produced far from where people live, and transported long distances. Trucks move over 90 % of EU foods, but inefficiently. Each truck is limited to 25 tonnes; this means many trucks on the roads, and each making many trips. The result is clogged roads and high exhaust emissions. Additionally, the small capacity of each vehicle means no refrigeration, shortening the shelf life of already perishable food. Such factors also limit the distances achievable with road transport. The EU-funded Agro Highway project developed an alternative water transport system. The project was initiated by Trilobes BV and MilkWays Holding BV under the project team of Gert Jan Vossnack, Eric van der Zalm and Diederik Brasser. The project focused exclusively on liquid foods, including milk, juices and tomato paste. Such products require specialised systems compared to dry foods. Liquid ferry The project’s new freight concept, Liquid Ferry, is a dedicated cargo ship. Ships can handle considerably larger cargoes than trucks, in the order of thousands of tonnes, and are therefore substantially more efficient. The Liquid Ferry prototype contains two 257 000 l tanks, yielding a total payload capacity of over 500 tonnes. Though this represents an industrial scale of transport (20 trucks), a commercial version would represent a capacity of 1-2 million l. Agro Highway’s concept ship is capable of shallow-water operation in coastal zones and rivers. The 86 m vessel needs no terminals, and can be loaded and unloaded directly to road tankers. These complete a final short land portion of the journey. “Our cargo system is aseptic,” says Brasser, Agro Highway project leader. “This guarantees the highest quality standards in transport, yet can only be achieved via a sophisticated cleaning/sterilisation system and stringent controls throughout the whole supply chain.” Apart from the cargo containers, all associated pumping equipment at both ends of the journey will be kept free of disease-causing bacteria. Another factor in maintaining hygiene is strict temperature control. “The temperature of the product can be regulated to within 0.2 degrees C, based on mild cooling techniques,” adds Vossnack. The hygienic conditions further depend on design and manufacture of premium quality. For example, to preserve a proper seal, cracks must never develop in the tanks over their expected 20-year lifespans. Achieving this specification demands extremely precise mechanical engineering. New markets The new transportation system will dramatically increase the maximum distances achievable. Also, with a recent relaxation of European milk quotas, the excess will be easily transportable to previously inaccessible foreign markets. Agro Highway’s system also eliminates much of the expensive pre- and post-processing previously necessary. This includes packaging waste, which traditionally accounts for 10-30 % of final product cost price. Such efficiencies further optimise the profitability of the product across the supply chain. Potential clients have responded positively to the project’s results. “A new logistical system is in place, and the consortium team has been finalising contracts,” van der Zalm sums up. The development will mean growth opportunities for European SMEs. Researchers estimate that the project’s work will create an annual turnover of EUR 100 million, and reduce transportation costs by 20-50 %. Soon, European liquid agricultural products will be able to reach distant foreign markets in a timely and profitable way.
Agro Highway, transport, cargo, milk, ship, liquid food, liquid agricultural products, water transport, hygienic conditions