Does a container floor have any effect on the relative humidity in a shipping container?

By: Pakarada Premtitikul
General Manager
InterDry (Thailand) Co., Ltd.

Container Floor Tests

Speed of achieving a hygroscopic equilibrium.

In this experiment, a piece of plywood, used for container flooring at MSC, was conditioned at 23 ° C and 50% relative humidity. The piece of wood was placed in a climate test cabinet at 45 ° C and 75% RH where the wood absorbs moisture. Every day the wood was weighed and the moisture content of the wood was determined. With this procedure we have more knowledge about the speed at which wood reaches its hygroscopic balance.

The wood was protected with tape in places where in reality it is not subjected to the internal container air. Following pictures show how the wood was protected.

The tested piece of wood top and bottom.

The initial mass of the wood was 3259g. Following graphs show the results of the test. The first chart shows the mass of absorbed moisture per day. The second chart shows the increase in the moisture content of wood per day.

Absorbed moisture per day

Increase in the moisture content of wood

Unfortunately, the hygroscopic equilibrium had not been reached before the trial was stopped. The moisture content remained almost constant after 3 days. Yet the wood continued absorbing moisture. Since it is plywood, that means that once the moisture content of the top layer remains constant, the moisture will move to the lower layers of wood.

Comparison of the climate of two containers at MSC.

In order to see the difference between climate change and the change in the moisture content of the container floor in a container with a desiccant and a container without desiccant, the following experiment was made.

Two containers at MSC were used for this test. One container (container U6472633 MSC) was provided with desiccant and the other container (U1089745 MSC) was left as it was. The ventilation holes in the two containers were sealed with tape.

A data logger was used in both containers to measure the changing climatic conditions. In container U6472633 MSC a probe was placed near the ceiling and a probe on the floor. In container U1089745 MSC a probe was mounted on the ceiling and a probe on the outside of the door to measure the outdoor conditions. Following figure shows the positions of the probes of logger 56,844 in container MSC U6472633 and logger 56,845 in container U1089745.

Before the container doors were closed, the moisture content of the floors were measured. Following figure shows the moisture content of the container floor at various locations in the two containers before the start of the trial.

The test was performed over a period of 28 days at the port of Antwerp, and below are the results of the data loggers.


Data logger 56844:

The purple curve and the green curve are respectively the relative humidity near the ceiling and the relative humidity near the container floor.

It can clearly be seen that fluctuations in relative humidity in the vicinity of the ceiling are much higher than those in the vicinity of the floor.

The purple curve shows maxima of 85% and 90% and minima of 30% and 40%. The green curve shows maxima of 70% and 75% and minima of 55% and 60%.

The blue curve and red curve are respectively the temperature near the ceiling and the temperature near the floor.

The fluctuations near the ceiling were slightly larger than those near the floor. The minima of both are roughly equal at about 10° C. The maximum temperature at the ceiling was about 40 ° C and at the floor approximately 30° C.


Data logger 56845:

The purple curve and the green curve are respectively the relative humidity near the ceiling and the relative humidity outside the container.

The fluctuations of relative humidity are not comparable because outside the container it was sometimes larger and sometimes smaller.

The blue curve and red curve are respectively the temperature near the ceiling and the temperature outside the container. Minima are comparable, but the maxima showed extreme differences. The maximum temperature at the ceiling was about 40 ° C and outside about 30 ° C.

For a better comparison between the climate of both containers, the temperature changes and changes in the relative humidity near the ceiling are shown in the figure below.


The temperature and relative humidity within containers MSC U6472633 and MSC U1089745 and outside.

The temperatures were almost exactly the same. The relative humidity, however, showed some differences. The relative humidity in the container with the desiccant showed smaller maxima.

The explanation lies in the fact that an amount of moisture was absorbed by the desiccant resulting in less moisture in the air, resulting in a lower relative humidity.

After weighing the desiccant, it was discovered that a total of 4.465 kg of moisture was absorbed. Since the air in a container itself contains little moisture, this must have been moisture from the floor. The desiccant always causes a lower relative humidity in the air so the floor was looking for a new hygroscopic equilibrium. Therefore, the moisture of the floor in the container with desiccant should have dropped as well. Next figure shows that this indeed is correct.

The moisture content of the container floor in MSC U6472633 decreased 2 to 5%, while the moisture content in container MSC U1089745 remained constant.

Climate control inside a container is a very difficult task.

There are so many variables to be taken into consideration that it is practically impossible to determine a precise figure on the number of desiccant needed within a container.

Nevertheless, significant conclusions can be made such as the fact that a container floor is one of the main sources of humidity.

Desiccant always absorb more at higher temperatures and higher relative humidity. High relative humidity provides a high absorption capacity, while a high temperature results in faster moisture absorption.
If the packing unit increases in mass, the rate of absorption decreases, but the active absorption time increases.

When comparing the different desiccant products two main groups are distinguished by their absorption properties, namely the rapid absorbers and those with a long effective absorption time. If a rapid moisture-absorption is desired, for example for a shorter sea voyage, the first group of desiccants holds perhaps the greatest advantage. If a constant fluid intake is desired, the second group is the most desirable.

As the products that continue to absorb also the ones that absorb the most, fewer units are needed for this type of desiccant which is a big advantage. It should be noted that the desiccants with faster absorption, are the clay based desiccants. The desiccants that ultimately absorb the most are the desiccant based on salt.
From the test at MSC can be concluded that desiccants work. Products succeed in absorbing the moisture from the wood to bring down the relative humidity in the air. Because the relative humidity is lower, a new hygroscopic equilibrium needs to be created. In the MSC container was that new hygroscopic equilibrium was created by the wooden floor expelling moisture.

Finally, it should be noted that the choice of desiccant is not easy, but it is determined by a diverse range of interacting conditions such as type of cargo to be shipped, the length of the voyage, the sea route, the season the container is transported and so on.

Related articles

Formation of condensation in container due to temperature changes by sunlight

By: Pakarada Premtitikul
General Manager
InterDry (Thailand) Co., Ltd.

Formation of condensation in container due to temperature changes by sunlight

Hygroscopic goods collected in an airtight container will lead to condensation in sunny weather.

During the day the container walls and ceiling heat up. In the evening they cool off leads to accumulation of condensation in the container.

During heating of the container walls and the internal air, the relative humidity drops. The container floor and the cargo will now dissipate condensation by which the absolute humidity in the air rises.

The water from the cargo comes from the upper layers of the load. This reduces the vapour pressure of the liquid inside the cargo which then migrates from the underlying layers of the cargo to the outer layers.

Figure 1: Warming of a container through radiation. The left figure depicts the start of condensation. The right figure, the condensation builds up for the coming days.

If the container warming has reached its peak, the temperature will drop with the result that the relative humidity increases. Part of the moisture will condense on the cooler container walls when their temperature gets below the dew point of the internal air. During the heating that occurs over the following days, the condensation of the vertical walls evaporate into the air so that the cargo needs to evaporate less condensation to achieve balance.

The condensation on the ceiling does not get into thermal contact with the circulating air, but will diffuse to lower drier air. This process is slower than the evaporation of condensation on the vertical walls by dry air. The condensation on the ceiling does not dry despite the heat. So day after day there is more and more because of moisture condensation from the cargo goods.

When the limit is reached, the condensation begins to drip. The right drawing in Figure 1 shows that the majority of the condensation is formed on the ceiling . This is important because condensation on the vertical walls do not directly cause damage but condensation from the ceiling drips into the goods.

The figure below shows the forming of condensation inside a container that was heated during the day. The moment the temperature of the container wall goes below the dew point of air inside the container, condensation forms in the container.


Figure 2: The daily temperature variations in a container: The temperature, relative humidity and the dew point of air, the temperature of the cargo and the container walls.

Is the colour of a shipping container important?

By: Pakarada Premtitikul
General Manager
InterDry (Thailand) Co., Ltd.

Does the colour of a shipping container affect the relative humidity inside?

Steel is currently the most used in the construction of containers despite its poor insulation properties. This is because it is cheap in production and maintenance. Another factor is that it is very suitable to absorb the mechanical forces acting on a container. The colour of the paint on the exterior of the container has an impact on the internal container temperature during sunlight. For a better picture of the impact on the container I will show you two colour charts reflecting the temperature changes in a white and a brown container during the course of one day.

The chart below shows the temperature in different places within a white container and outside each hour of the day. The temperature varies between 40 ° C near the roof and 28 ° C near the floor with an outside temperature of about 28 ° C at noon. During the night, the temperature of the air in the container is about 12 ° C at an outside temperature of 15 ° C.

Figure 1: The temperature at different places in a white container at every hour of the day.

A similar study was done with a container with a brown color. There were much higher temperature differences measured. A measurement at midday found a temperature of about 50 ° C near the roof and 35 ° C near the container floor with an outside temperature of 25 ° C.

During the night the air inside and outside the container had similar temperatures, fluctuating around 15 ° C. These measurements are in the chart below

Figure 2: The temperature at different places in a brown container at every hour of the day.

The colour of a container indeed affects the internal temperature. Previous charts showed that a dark container has a temperature increase of about 10 ° C more with the same outdoor temperature (27 to 28 ° C). The relative humidity can change from 80% for example to about 50% which can cause a great hygroscopic imbalance. It also comes with a larger cooling. All the humidity extracted from the goods into the container internal air to balance the hygroscopic imbalance due to the temperature rise in the afternoon will condensate during the drastic drop in temperature in the evening.

The figure below shows an estimate of the occurrence of certain container colour. This estimate resulted from the assumption that the size of the container capacity of 10 major container liners is approximately equivalent to the size of the total number of containers that are transported. And that the container liners only transport using their own containers. Even though bright colours like white, gray and yellow are popular, darker colours like dark blue and even green are also relatively common.


Figure 3: Percentage of container colour occurrence.