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A Physical Model for Studying Airflow and Temperature Control in Refrigerated Reefer Containers with Pallets

Project Description


Kiwifruit exports from New Zealand exceeded NZD $1.7B in 2016, with an intention to grow to NZD $4.5B by 2025. Successfully exporting large volumes of kiwifruit from New Zealand to distant foreign markets relies on refrigerated reefer containers, where quality maintenance is dependent on the degree to which refrigeration temperatures can be maintained. An uneven distribution of refrigerated airflow inside a reefer container generates spatial temperature differences during the weeks or months of transit, which is a leading cause of product losses via chilling injury and premature softening. Therefore, optimising the airflow around and through pallets of kiwifruit loaded into reefer container is vital.

With funding and support from Zespri International, the Massey AgriTech Partnership seeks a PhD candidate to design and build a scale physical model of a reefer container. This experimental apparatus will be used to quantify the airflow velocity profile and subsequent temperature control within a container. At a smaller scale, the impact of many iterations and interventions (such as different pallet loading and package designs) on these crucial outcomes can be investigated.

Massey University has a substantial history in studying horticultural cold-chain operations. The successful candidate will join a team of 3 professors, 10 young academics and 10+ PhD students working at the forefront of agricultural technology. The role will be based in Massey University’s Manawatu campus in Palmerston North.


In order to be eligible for this project, the applicants must:
• Hold an appropriate Master’s (B or higher result) or Honours (2nd class div I or higher result) degree in a relevant discipline. Relevant disciples include Chemical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Agricultural Engineering or Food Technology. Other similar disciplines will be considered.
• Be capable of constructing and executing large scale laboratory and industry experiments.
• Be capable of collecting and analysing large sets of data.
• Have an understanding of engineering physics (heat transfer, mass transfer, momentum transfer, etc.).
• Be capable of presenting research results in both written and oral format, for both scientific and industrial audiences.

Other competencies which would be seen favourably by the selection team include:
• Previous experience with the horticulture industry.
• Physical fitness and tolerance of low temperature environments.
• A driver’s licence.

The successful candidate will receive a stipend of $30,000 NZD per year for a three year period. Annual tuition fees will also be included with the scholarship. The successful candidate will spend a majority of their time on the Manawatu campus, supervised by Prof. Andrew East () and Dr. Jamal Olatunji (). The student will also spend a substantial amount of time in Tauranga at New Zealand’s largest seaport, working with industry innovation leader Dr. David Tanner. The successful candidate is expected to travel internationally for conferences, and/or to collaborate with international research groups.

Interested candidates that are currently completing their degree may be considered, under the consideration that the position is to be filled by December 2019. Interested applicants should:
1. Send their C.V. and a cover letter to Dr. Jamal Olatunji ().
2. Write a one page essay on how the candidate would suggest tackling the research problem (candidate selection is heavily influenced by the quality of this essay).

Potential candidates are welcome to contact Dr. Olatunji () by email with any further questions.

Funding Notes

The successful candidate will receive a stipend of $30,000 NZD per year for a three year period. Annual tuition fees will also be included with the scholarship. Funding for experimental equipment will also be provided.


Olatunji, J.R., Love, R.J., Shim, Y.M., Ferrua, M.J., East, A.R. (2017). Quantifying and visualising variation in batch operations: A new heterogeneity index. Journal of Food Engineering, 196, 81-93.

O’Sullivan, J., Ferrua, M. J., Love, R., Verboven, P., Nicolaï, B., East, A.R. (2016). Modelling the forced-air cooling mechanisms and performance of polylined horticultural produce. Postharvest Biology and Technology, 120, 23-35.

Carson, J.K., East, A.R. (2018). The cold chain in New Zealand – A review. International Journal Of Refrigeration, 87, 185-192.

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