TiVo a show. Xerox a document. Velcro your bag.
The concept of taking a brand name and turning it into a common verb is a practice that etymologists refer to as “anthimeria,” which means a functional shift or conversion of word use. It happens sometimes when consumers latch onto a leading brand and start using it in a new way, with no mind or care about whether the company supports that use or not, and is often a reflection of the company in question’s domination of the marketplace. When there is one leading brand it is human nature to shorten its usage in common speech.
This is not a new phenomenon.
One of the earliest instances of anithimeria in U.S. popular culture dates back to the 1920s, when the word “Frigidaire” became synonymous with the then-new technology of refrigeration. Frigidaire was the company, founded in 1918 to manufacture home refrigerators, and so consumers soon adopted its name as a way to describe the strange, new devices they suddenly all had in their kitchens.
Now we just refer to this technology as the refrigerator or the fridge, but phrasing like, “put it in the Frigidaire,” was not uncommon a few generations ago.
It’s an indication of just how ground-shaking refrigeration was when it hit the market shortly after the turn of the 20th century. Based on technologies that had been developed over the course of more than a century, today’s refrigerators — self-contained electric models that include a compressor at the bottom of the unit — date back to a 1914 invention, and haven’t changed dramatically in the years since. Yes, compressors have gotten smaller, systems have become more efficient and refrigerator cabinets have evolved to fit modern lifestyles, but the box in just about every kitchen on the planet isn’t dramatically different in design from the units that first rolled off the Frigidaire assembly line nearly a century ago.
Inside the ‘cold chain’
That hasn’t stopped refrigeration from becoming one of the signature technologies of the modern era.
Every year, more than 9 million refrigerators are shipped to customers in the U.S., and nearly 100% of homes in this country have a refrigerator, according to government data. It’s the most popular home appliance. (Sometimes one isn’t even enough, as evidenced by the fact that 23% of American homes have one or more fridges in service.)
But this is just a drop in the bucket compared to the industrial uses of refrigeration. Many of the products and foods we use daily — ranging from agricultural products like meats and fruits to pharmaceuticals — are produced across the global and then transported through the “cold chain,” an uninterrupted series of storage and distribution activities which maintain a specific cold temperature range.
The cold chain is a critical component of the global economy. Cooling, in its various forms, accounts for roughly 17% of all electricity consumption globally, and is growing rapidly as demand for the products that the cold chain supports skyrockets.
Between 30 and 70 terawatt hours (TWh) — equal to the energy consumption of between 2.5 and 5.8 million U.S. homes — are used annually to power cold storage warehouses. The bulk of the growth in the cold storage market is occuring in economies such as India and China — economies where the electricity sectors rely heavily on inefficient and polluting sources of power. (Asia’s power plants are 36% more polluting than U.S. power plants, and 58% more polluting than European power systems.) As a result, current refrigerant use is unsustainable. If HFC refrigerant use and leakage were to continue unabated, HFCs would account for nearly one half of total global GHG emissions by 2050.
None of this disputes the value of the cold chain system now in place, but the fact is current refrigeration methods are unsustainable. Cold storage facilities are struggling to manage rising operating costs, rigorous product safety standards, and evolving environmental regulations, all while dealing with outdated and inefficient equipment. Cold storage operators continuously look to control costs while balancing the energy-intensive requirements of perishable products with the desire to manage electricity consumption.
Besides the capital and maintenance cost of sophisticated cooling equipment, the power required to chill contents often comprises more than 25% of a cold storage facility’s operating costs.
A new approach
The time has come for a new approach to refrigeration. A new way to keep foods, pharmaceuticals and other products cold when needed, without such a heavy cost in the form of energy usage and other resources.
Enter, Rebound Technologies.
A startup based in Denver, Colo., Rebound is commercializing a freeze point suppression cooling cycle technology that targets the most critical part of the cold chain: refrigeration.
The company is testing a novel cooling technology and cold storage facilities can plug directly into their existing freezer systems, providing new controls to deploy bursts of high-capacity cooling. This new type of refrigeration cycle is 40% more efficient than incumbent processes, and is ideal for speeding-up blast freezing throughput and mitigating peak energy expenses. It offers the potential for massive energy savings and greenhouse gas mitigation, and offers more operational flexibility and better control of cooling for users.
It’s cheaper, more efficient and easier to use.
Rebound is currently targeting two potential user bases: Cold storage and food processing facilities. The technology can increase facility revenues by increasing blast freezing throughput, mitigating compressor power and avoiding peak energy expenses. It can also boost batch processes by decreasing spiral freezer temps, avoiding peak energy expenses and ensuring USDA food safety compliance.
Globally, the industrial refrigeration sector spends roughly $24 billion on refrigeration equipment annually. The number of refrigeration, air-conditioning, and heat pump systems in operation globally is 3 billion, sales of which amount to $300 billion. Of these 3 billion units, an estimated 90 million are commercial food refrigeration systems. The U.S. is home to 1,430 cold storage facilities.
By bringing more flexible, more efficient systems to this large and growing market, Rebound hopes to make a difference in not only the industry’s energy usage, but also the impact that refrigeration as a whole has on the planet.