The Self-Cooling Technology and the Future – Part 3

Field of opportunities or graveyard of dreams? Examples of some of the many commercially unsuccessful self-cooling packaging - Source: Packaging Materials & Technologies Ltd

Field of opportunities or graveyard of dreams? Examples of some of the many commercially unsuccessful self-cooling packaging – Source: Packaging Materials & Technologies Ltd

As said in my previous article the self-cooling trail is literally littered with technological failures. There are thousands and thousands of patents about self-cooling containers and still we haven’t seen any reliable one in the market. In this issue we will have a look at the self-cooling developments and a look into the future of self-heating/self-cooling technology.

The self-cooling technology boils down to two options: endothermic chemical reactions and heat pump technology using water vapour as the heat transfer fluid.

Endothermic reactions tend to be weak. By contrast water evaporation can be a powerful cooling process, as evaporation of 10 ml of water can theoretically cool 330 ml of water by 18°C.

The self-cooling system of the Ice Can

The self-cooling system of the Ice Can

In Italy Freddo Freddo, the sister product of the earlier mentioned Caldo Caldo, employs the endothermic reaction between sodium thiosulphate pentahydrate and water.
I suspect that ScaldoPack is using an identical cooling system, in other words identical salts and water, as its cooling track is not that forceful.

Heat pump technology is finding commercial success in Europe for party keg sizes of beer. German CS-Metallbau GmbH developed a self-cooling refillable keg using Zeolite/Water-Vacuum Adsorption Technology. Zeolite is a non-toxic mineral that exists in nature. In dry conditions it adsorbs large quantities of water. Under vacuum the process makes it possible to produce ice.

But this article was intended for single-serve beverage packaging and not multi-litre packaging. So let’s have a look at the developments in that category.

Instant Cool Can
121045-60708-Crown Ice Can W320 100dpiIn 2006 a partnership of Tempra Technology and Crown Holdings introduced the Instant Cool Can. The Instant Cool Can was said to be a 100% safe and environmentally friendly self-refrigerating process that cools using brilliantly simple water evaporation. Tempra stated that in fact, it’s proven to lower beverage temperature by a minimum of 30°F (16.7°C) in just three minutes.
The design used thermal, insulating and vacuum heat pump technology, according to the description. The self-contained can was about the size of a 500 ml beverage can, holding approx. 300 ml (10 oz.) of beverage. This includes the beverage container itself, and the integral self-cooling device.
The can never made it to the market and is one of the additions to the “Gallery of Failures”.

121045-Chill Can W540 100dpi

Chill Can
Why did I refer to this Instant Cool Can. Well, recently, to be precisely in February this year, the online proclaimed that “US firm Joseph Company International is launching the world’s first ‘self-chilling beverage can’ using licensed technology, even tested by NASA”. The test markets are “selected convenience stores” in Southern California and Las Vegas.

121045-Chil Can photo-6 W540 100dpi

Mitchell Joseph himself told how the technology worked: “There’s an inner unit called a heat exchanger, an HEU, and inside is an organic, renewable vegetable source done from activated carbon made from coconut shells.
The adsorbent that goes on there [….] reclaims CO2 that is already in the atmosphere, bringing it in and clearing the air away from it, and using that as the source of CO2.
Once you push the button on the bottom of the can, it then releases the CO2 from the activated carbon – it’s not absorbed, it’s adsorbed – then that becomes the last stage of your refrigeration system basically”.

WEST COAST CHILL, INC. SELF-CHILLING BEVERAGE CANThe story is a bit wary, but it comes down to: “The can uses CO2 reclaimed from the environment and activated carbon ascertained from a renewable vegetable source”. Whether it works I can’t tell you. I haven’t seen it in the market. To be honest I haven’t been in Southern California or Las Vegas recently, but I haven’t heard of it anymore either. For the time being I believe that Joseph’s claim, that the Chill Can would “revolutionise the beverage industry, and the way the consumer perceives a cold drink”, looks a bit premature.

What’s left? Let’s have a look into the future.

The Future of Self-Heating and Self-Cooling
First we go back to 2006. In that year at the Solar 2006 Conference in Denver researchers of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute detailed that they’re making progress in developing a thin-film technology that ultimately could turn beverage bottles into climate control systems.
The ABE system being developed by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute accomplishes the jobs of both cooling and heating, yet operates silently with no moving parts, using a thin-film technology that adheres both solar cells and heat pumps onto surfaces.
“The ease of application would make it possible to seamlessly attach the system to various surfaces”, RPI researcher Steven Van Dessel said. “It also may be possible to one day use the ABE system to create packaging materials for thermal control, which could lead to things like self-cooling soda bottles”.

Active Building Envelope (ABE) systems
121182-Active Building Envelope, by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute 320x333 100dpiActive Building Envelope (ABE) systems make use of solar energy and are a new technology for space heating and cooling, which integrate photovoltaic (PV) and thermoelectric (TE) technologies. In the ABE systems, a PV system is used to transfer solar energy directly into the electrical energy. This electrical energy is subsequently used to power a TE system.
Depending on the direction of electrical current applied to the TE system, ABE systems can operate in a heating or cooling mode, and can compensate for thermal losses or gains that occur through a building’s envelop or other thermal enclosure.

It is not surprising that we haven’t heard a lot about this interesting development after the first announcement. Research projects tend to consume a lot of time and the accent often lies on a range of industries, in this case from aerospace (advanced thermal control systems in future space missions), to the automotive industry, where it could be applied to windshields and sun roofs, giving the ability to heat or cool a car’s interior. Furthermore I read that attached to various building surfaces the system possibly renders conventional air conditioning and heating equipment obsolete.
121182-soda1_h 540x241 100dpi

In this lucrative field of potential applications the use of the system in packaging technology is certainly pushed somewhere in the background.

But whatever the case it is a development that we need to keep an eye on as it surely will surface in the future self-cooling and self-heating packaging formats.

121045-ScaldoPackhow it work HOT W540 100dpi

ScaldoPack self-cooling stand-up pouch

Up till this point we have only spoken about self-heating or self-cooling of liquids, i.e. beverages. However the increasingly convenience-orientated consumer requires a means to heat all types of food and beverages including high viscosity liquids and solid products, i.e. thick soups, snacks including wraps, fajitas, stuffed pita bread, ready meals, pasta, rice and stews. To date the technologies for self-heating have been confined to quicklime/water reactions (with the exception of HeatGenie), where heat output is lower but the reaction is safer. But heating times can be long for solid food products since heat is transferred from the heating source to the product purely by conduction. The existing heating systems also have the risk that the solid food in contact with the heating unit is burnt, while the outside surface of the food is still cold.

Note:  Although HeatGenie uses a different fuel source, the result doesn’t fare better in cases of solid food.

Direct Steam Heating
Although the company is victim of its failed developments and dissolved as of 11 Feb 2011, we have to take a look at a new heat transfer process Thermotic Developments came up with. The so called direct steam heating, ensuring excess water is present during the lime/water reaction, is a highly efficient system which transfers heat to the product by injecting steam directly into and through the food. Steam is a very effective medium for transferring energy, with 1g steam delivering around 2KJ of energy.

Crown Fresh Can

Crown Fresh Can

This is a very important development for heating ready-meals. So important that Crown, a company apparently very much interested in the field of self-heating and self-cooling, included the steam process in its vision of the future self-heating containers.

Ahead of the Pack Expo Las Vegas 2011, the PMMI (Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute) challenged the design community to envision how packaging will drive consumer purchasing decisions in 2020 and submit their ideas of what consumers will see on retail shelves in the year 2020.
Crown Packaging Technology took a shot at the future with its entry “The Fresh Can” visualising the upcoming and very promising trend of self-heating/self-cooling of on-the-go meals.

The Fresh Can
Shelf stable ambient foods, including vegetables, pasta, soups and ready-to-eat meals, can be heated in seconds thanks to in-can steaming technology from small self-heating pucks in the base of the package or heating by induction on ‘smart surfaces’. Steam heating provides improved taste and freshness and the all-metal construction is 100% recyclable. Metal packaging also saves energy by eliminating the need for refrigeration and freezing and reduces food waste by controlling portion size.
121045-110935-Entry1_CrownPkg_FreshCan 540x382 100dpi

The interesting point in this concept is not the self-heating in itself, but the fact that Crown thinks in terms of steaming. In general, self-heating packages are using calcium oxide and water for the thermal reaction in a closed environment separated from the food stuff and this energy source is not sufficient for thoroughly heating of solid food.

Of course, Crown as a manufacturer of metal containers, talks about steaming ready-meals packed in metal containers. In my opinion there is no limitation to metal containers. Personally I see a bright future for self-heating in plastic/paperboard containers. Don’t forget we already do steam ready-meals in plastic containers with an auto-venting lid.

So here ends my story for today. Watch the developments in solar thin film as a new energy source for self-heating or self-cooling technology and watch the developments of self-steaming containers for ready-meals and other solid food products.

10 responses to “The Self-Cooling Technology and the Future – Part 3

  1. Dear Anton, thanks for your effort putting all the heating and cooling projects together. As I am working on a similar idea I would like to understand why they all (most of them) failed. Do you have any idea what went wrong. Isn’t there any market for the products? Are they to expensive? Is the marked to sensitive due to the chemicals used to heat/cool the beverages? Regards Rudi

    • Rudi, with every new technology or new application of an existing technology a lot of things go wrong. That’s part of every development and progress. BTW, you have to see self-heating and self-cooling as two completely different technologies. They have nothing in common. Heating is simpler than cooling. Self-cooling hasn’t been achieved yet. There are some very good self-heating packages (mainly beverage cans) on the market. The problem that they aren’t popular is (I think) that as an on-the-go packaging they are too heavy. They are not suitable for hiking etc. The second problem is that the quality of the beverage itself, often/always is terrible. I tried several and you never want to drink one more. I never understood why canned coffee, tea and soup have a terrible taste and self-heating packages are even worse than the standard ones. Maybe it’s a price question.
      In my opinion the only self-heating unit which is really of interest is the baby formula self-heating container. That must be able to be quality and it is feasible that it is attractive to young parents on the go (by car). Read my article about this item.
      The only item of any interest to self-heating is the ready-meal. I wrote about it and foresee a future in microwaveable self-heating. The existing heat-sources are not suitable, in fact, not even for beverages.
      Don’t develop anything with the old-old self-heating system, as it’s due to fail. The keyword is the heating-source. Anton

      • Hi Anton, why is heating and cooling not comparable? Beside CO2 cooling, both technics are using water and a chemical to produce an endotherm or exotherm reaction and why do you think that cooling is more complicate than heating?? As a one man show I am working on a cooling project and you are right, weight is an issue. My wife biggest concern – beside using chemicals with frightening names – is the volume and weight of the cooling component. But cooling a 330ml can requires at least 150 ml cooling liquide – for hiking propably not rearly usable. But at home, when no cool drink is in the fridge and ice cubes are not available, or in a car, weight shouldn’t matter.

        So why is nobody putting a product like this on the market?

        Regards Rudi

      • Hi Anton, I read your article and I understood that most of the cooling systems failed, but why? Was it the technology than didn’t work, was ist the required cooling-volume/weight the consumer didn’t accept? Was it the price, or was it just the taste of the product itself?

        To cool down a 330 ml can from 25° to 10° around 20kJ are needed. I hardly believe that this can be reached via nano- or solar packaging.

        Regard Rudi

      • Rudi, the crucial points for a consumer is price and weight. Furthermore he is wary of the chemicals inside and/or the chemical reaction. If we want self-cooling or self-heating to become successful we have to create more sophisticated heat-sources. HeatGenie is one of the companies working on this scheme.
        Chemical reactions will not convince or get the trust of the consumer. On top of this it is the weight.
        My friend, it’s of no importance whether you believe or hardly believe. You remember the very first microwave? It weighed 5,000 kg and had the size of a living room. Now we see the portable microwave powered by paper batteries.
        Read: Ready Meals And The Onda Portable Microwave (
        Nano, solar and some others are just in their infancy. We will see a lot of alternative energy sources in the future, particularly in packaging.

      • Dear Anton,

        I’ve just read your article it’s a great collection of the new techs 🙂

        I am an inventor my self of a personal thermal conditioning system, the first full conditioned garment in the world – with precise temperature settings from 15C to 55C garment temperature in any outdoor weather condition. Besides perconal uses, we have systems developed for army, fireman, ect. Basicly it is a fluid circuladted garment – check at
        our heat sources are the waste heat energy of the fluid cooled engines, or propane butane gas for heating, and for cooling we have a compressor and an ice based system. Our strenght is the precise temperature control (1C) and enourmous power compared with competitors.
        Maybe you could make an article on the personal cooling and heating systems subject, and you will find the same: why these inventions are not known on the market?
        Thanks Sandor Szekely

      • Sandor, thanks for your comment, but you’re talking about personal (body) heating/cooling. That has nothing to do with packaging and I don’t see how your technology can be incorporated in packaging. Sorry to say, but I can’t write an article about it, as I only write about developments in packaging technology.

  2. Its been awhile since you wrote this article and none of them are on the market.
    My ” self contained thermal beverage system ” published patent pending bottle is what consumers are dreaming of.
    I think you should have a look, you can google this.
    It takes longer to cool but the weak endothermic reaction as you refered to in your article is stronger because the longer the better. Whereas the others did it and it was over. The bottle “Future Bottle” is also designed to prevent the absorbtion of chemicals in the beverage.

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