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Comparing Active and Passive Temperature-Controlled Containers: Which is the Better Option for Shippers?

Comparing Active and Passive Temperature-Controlled Containers: Which is the Better Option for Shippers?


As global trade and e-commerce continue to grow, temperature-controlled containers have become a crucial element in shipping perishable goods. These containers are designed to preserve the quality and freshness of the cargo by maintaining a consistent temperature and providing a controlled environment throughout the supply chain. However, selecting between active and passive containers can be challenging for shippers. In this blog post, we will compare the pros and cons of both active and passive containers to help shippers make informed decisions.


What Are Active Temperature Controlled Containers?


shipping container

Credit: Envirotainer


Active temperature-controlled containers, also known as active thermal containers, are specialized containers that come with built-in cooling and heating systems to regulate the temperature inside them. These systems rely on power sources such as generators or batteries to operate and are designed to maintain a specific temperature range that is ideal for shipping goods that require precise temperature control. 

To ensure the temperature remains within the desired range, temperature sensors are installed within active containers, and the temperature can be remotely monitored and controlled using telematics systems. Although these containers can be costly, they are ideal for transporting goods over long distances, where continuous monitoring of the temperature is critical.


Advantages of Active Temperature Controlled Systems


Active thermal containers are an essential tool for shippers who need to transport temperature-sensitive goods. Here are three reasons why:


1) Precise Temperature Control


Active systems provide precise temperature control, which is essential for shipping temperature-sensitive products. The temperature can be set and maintained at a specific range, which minimizes the risk of spoilage and ensures the quality and freshness of the cargo.


2) Remote Monitoring


Active thermal containers are equipped with a telematics system that allows for remote monitoring of the temperature and other environmental factors inside the container. This feature provides real-time data on the condition of the cargo, enabling shippers to track the shipment's progress and take corrective action if necessary.


3) Wide Temperature Range


Active thermal containers can maintain a wide temperature range from -30°C to +30°C, making them suitable for shipping a variety of temperature-sensitive products. They can accommodate frozen, chilled, and ambient temperature cargo, making them a versatile choice for transporting goods across different industries.


Disadvantages of Active Temperature Controlled Systems 


Below are the disadvantages of active temperature-controlled containers:


1) Higher Cost


Active thermal containers are generally more expensive than passive containers due to the additional equipment and power sources required to run the heating and cooling systems. In addition, the cost of maintenance and repair is also higher than passive containers, as they have more components that require regular servicing. This can make them less cost-effective for some shipments, especially for those with a lower value or smaller volumes.


2) Limited Battery Life


Active thermal containers rely on batteries or generators to power the heating and cooling systems, which means that the battery life is limited. If the battery runs out of charge during transit, it can compromise the temperature control and spoil the cargo. This risk can be mitigated by using backup power sources, such as generators or external power supplies, but it adds to the cost and complexity of the shipment.


3) Space Constraints


Active thermal containers require more space than passive containers as they have additional components, such as heating and cooling systems, power sources, and telematics systems. This can be a limiting factor when shipping bulky or oversized cargo, as it may not fit inside the container.


What Are Passive Temperature Controlled Containers?


different types of insulated shipping boxes

Credit: OpenPR


Passive temperature-controlled containers, also known as passive thermal containers, rely on advanced insulation technology and specialized cooling agents like dry ice packs, gel packs, or phase change materials, to regulate the temperature inside the container. These containers come in various forms, including both reusable and single-use options, and can be custom-designed to meet specific size and temperature requirements. 

Unlike active units that require a continuous power supply to maintain the desired temperature, passive containers can sustain temperature control for extended periods without the need for backup systems or charging. They are an excellent choice for transporting temperature-sensitive products, such as food, pharmaceuticals, and medical supplies, and are widely used in the transportation and logistics industries.


Advantages of Passive Temperature-Controlled Systems


Passive containers have several advantages over active containers. This includes the following:


1) Lower Cost


Passive containers are cheaper than active containers due to their simpler design and lack of additional equipment. They are also lighter and smaller in size, which reduces shipping costs. 


2) No Power Supply Required


Unlike active containers, passive containers do not require an external power supply to maintain the temperature inside. They use insulation and phase-change materials, such as gel packs, dry ice, or water-based cooling solutions, to regulate the temperature. This eliminates the risk of power failure during transit and reduces the overall complexity of the shipment.


3) Space-Efficient Design


Passive containers have a smaller footprint than active containers, which makes them more space-efficient. They are designed to maximize cargo space while still providing adequate insulation and temperature control. This feature is particularly useful for shipping small or medium-sized shipments.


Disadvantages of Passive Temperature-Controlled Systems


Passive containers are a popular choice for shipping and storing temperature-sensitive products. However, they have some limitations that need to be considered before deciding to use them. Here are some of the disadvantages of using passive containers:


1) Limited Temperature Range


Passive containers have a limited temperature range compared to active containers. They are designed to maintain a specific temperature range for a limited period, typically between 48 and 120 hours. This can be a limiting factor when shipping products that require a specific temperature range for an extended period, such as vaccines or biologics.


2) No Remote Monitoring


Passive containers do not have a telematics system, which means that the temperature and other environmental factors inside the container cannot be monitored remotely. This can make it difficult to track the progress of the shipment and take corrective action if necessary.


3) Not Suitable for Extreme Conditions


Although passive systems are a reliable choice for a wide range of conditions, they may not be suitable for use in extremely hot or cold temperatures. The reason for this is that the insulation properties of the container's materials may not be adequate to mitigate the impact of such extreme temperatures. As a result, in these conditions, alternative measures such as active temperature control systems may be necessary to ensure the safety and quality of the goods.


Which Technology Should Shippers Choose?


worker working at at a shipping dock

Credit: Envato Elements/ YuriArcursPeopleImages


The choice between passive and active temperature-controlled containers depends on the specific needs of the shipper. If the products that are being shipped are highly sensitive to temperature and require precise temperature control, then it is advisable to opt for an active container. On the other hand, if the cost and environmental impact are the main factors that need to be considered, then a passive container may be the better option. However, if the shipment requires long-distance transportation, an active container may be necessary because it can maintain temperature control for a longer duration. 

It is also worth noting that hybrid systems, which combine passive and active technology, can also be a suitable option. Such systems use both dry ice packs or other phase change materials and have some form of thermostatic control. This technology can be an excellent choice for shippers who want to balance the benefits of both passive and active containers.




As a shipper, choosing between passive and active systems can be overwhelming, but it's crucial to weigh the pros and cons of each technology to make an informed decision. This will help you select the most suitable container for your specific needs and ensure that your products are transported safely and efficiently.

When it comes to shipping temperature-sensitive products, Nice Packs provides an ideal solution with our dry ice packs and insulated containers. Our top-quality products offer exceptional thermal protection, ensuring that your products reach their destination fresh and undamaged. Whether you operate in the pharmaceutical or food industry, you can trust Nice Packs for all your shipping needs. Visit our store today to find the best solutions for your shipping requirements. 

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