Friday, April 4, 2014

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Composite shipping containers could transform global trade

The shipping container has remained pretty much unchanged since American Malcolm McLean invented it in 1956. But carbon fiber composites could transform this staple of global trade, according to Stephan Lechner of the European Commission's Joint Research Centre.

The composite container is more expensive than the typical steel container, but its lighter weight would make it more cost effective in the long run by saving fuel costs.

A composite container could cost about $8300 versus $3050 for the steel version. But at a diesel fuel cost of $8.40 per gallon, the composite container would break even after traveling approximately 74,500 miles due to its lighter weight.

The composite weighs 1.2 tons compared to 2.2 tons for the steel container. The plastic version is also corrosion-resistant, and could be made to fold flat when empty.

Lechner said the composite container is more easily scanned. All containers coming into American ports must be scanned according to a 2006 law, but the compliance deadline keeps getting pushed back due to technical difficulties, in part because the steel containers need high level X-rays, or gamma rays, to penetrate and the higher levels are dangerous and costly. Composite containers could be scanned by lower level or "soft" X-rays, which are easier to handle.

For more of the Plastics Today story:

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