NATICK, Mass. -- When it comes to refrigerated containers, Ben Williams is eager to expand upon the subject.

Williams is a project officer/mechanical engineer in the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center's Combat Feeding Directorate. He is leading the effort to produce a second generation prototype of the Joint Service Expandable Refrigerated Container System, or JSERCS.

The previous version of the expandable container featured heavy, separate panels that needed to be lifted and fitted together. Williams thought of a new approach that relies on a design using hinges to improve the ergonomics of expanding/collapsing the container and eliminate any heavy lifting.

He has worked with his CFD colleagues and private industry to create a prototype based on the hinges concept.

The expandable system, featuring hinges, is the first of its kind. It can expand to 20 feet long, the size of a standard refrigerator container, but can be reduced to one-third the size when necessary.

"It's a new concept," said Ben. "I'm not aware of any other refrigerated system that expands in this nature."

With the new version, warfighters will no longer have to assemble the container by lifting the heavy panels, making the new version less labor intensive and safer.

"When there's a hinge, you don't need to move the full weight," said Williams. "Most of the panels just glide. You don't have to worry so much about people throwing their backs out."

CFD generated the requirements for the system, which was then built by a contractor. CFD will then carry out all the performance testing.

"It's a logistician's dream," said Williams. "It's saving money through less fuel consumption due to the use of a smaller refrigerated unit which is already fielded, which also saves money by eliminating the need for training and provisioning for a new refrigerated unit. It's easier to handle and can be set up by one or two people. It is lighter to ship and takes up one-third the space, making it easier to transport on planes and helicopters. And it can be moved using a standard forklift. It's in line with the expeditionary mindset -- this is what the warfighter needs."

The military ships thousands of containers each year. Since the new prototype is one-third the size, the expandable refrigerated container system would reduce the number of refrigerated containers shipped by the military by two-thirds. The expandable containers would also reduce the total amount of fuel/power used to transport and run these units in the field. The amount of refrigerant gas that can potentially be released into the atmosphere will also be reduced, as well as the amount of refrigerant gas that ultimately has to be recycled.

In addition to the use of hinges, the second generation JSERCS also features additional innovations. The new version will advance the development of, as well as integrate, two state-of-the-art technologies: improved insulation techniques and a proprietary thermal management coating. These high performing technologies are emerging and not widely used.

The lightweight composite encased vacuum insulated panels are built into the walls. Since the air is removed when the panels are vacuumed, there is no medium through which the heat to transfer. The second generation design of the panels also reduces end-wall and seam losses.

"It utilizes very new materials and insulation, making the insulation performance extremely high when compared with legacy military or commercial refrigerated containers," Williams said.

A special thermal management coating is used on the outside of the container, which reduces the radiant (i.e., solar) thermal energy from being absorbed by the container. The coatings can reduce the impact of heat from the sun on the container, or solar load, by as much as 80 percent.

The development and incorporation of insulated panels and coatings have led to a drastic reduction of the system's required refrigerated capacity when compared with commercially available, 20-foot refrigerated containers, resulting in significant cost savings due to the reduction in fuel required for daily operation (up to a 75 percent reduction in fuel consumption was realized).

For Williams, it's all about meeting the needs of the warfighter through the advancement of new technologies that align with the military's strategic plan, envisioning future military operations being ever more expeditionary in nature.

"Being able to work on a vast array of different types of systems and transition them to the warfighter is probably one of the most gratifying things we do here," said Williams.

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The U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to provide innovative research, development and engineering to produce capabilities that provide decisive overmatch to the Army against the complexities of the current and future operating environments in support of the joint warfighter and the nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.