Staxxon’s 5:1 space/slot optimization technology for empty containers means 5 empty containers only require 1 truck move.

Smart Planet is a CBS Interactive online publication that writes about design, technology and trends in that are focused on making the world a better place to live. Contributing Editor, Mary Catherine O’Connor, has written articles for  Fast Company, Wired, Outside, Entrepreneur, Earth2Tech, Earth Island Journal and The Bold Italic. She is based in San Francisco. Recently Mary Catherine interviewed Tom Stitt, Staxxon marketing and development director. Here are some excerpts from the article.

Q&A: Staxxon’s Tom Stitt on a new design for cargo containers

…Shipping containers are big in design news lately — usually for their role in creative reuse or as emergency housing. But the logistics and supply chain industries are still innovating and improving how these workhorses of international trade are designed and used for moving cargo. And the Staxxon collapsible shipping container design is a great example of this…

SmartPlanet: What are the main problems you think the Staxxon container design can solve?

Most people talk about the “empty container problem” in terms of trade imbalances and other things. That’s not the problem. The problem that we’re addressing is the carbon footprint and cost associated with moving empty containers. That’s where the real big problem is. Our goal is to reduce the number of moves an empty container makes — in the shipping industry they call those picks, touches or lifts. It’s the number of times someone has to move an empty container…

But how much energy are you actually saving? And where does the savings come from?

If you think of a truck hauling an empty container [between a port and a warehouse, for example], now imagine the same truck hauling five empty containers. That truck is burning roughly the same amount of truck fuel as it would by moving one laden container. But more importantly, instead of having five trucks driving to a terminal and then lining up [idling] to get into a port terminal, you have only one…in terms of footprint reduction, truck-moves is one area and terminal-moves is the other area [where we can reduce emissions]…

…If the empties are loaded onto a ship in 20% of the time that would usually take, and if 20% of a typical [ship] load is empty containers, you’re picking up some flexibility for the carrier. Time savings means the captain might be able to use super slow steaming for the container ship instead of the regular slow steaming to transport the load, which is a further fuel savings.

SmartPlanet: Where do you think are the optimal uses and users for your containers?

We think the optimal point of entry are on what are called short sea transits [or routes or lanes] that are highly unbalanced on one end — meaning very little comes back in containers. A good example is the route from Newark [NJ]/San Juan, Puerto Rico/Jacksonville, Florida. A lot of stuff goes down to San Juan and very little comes back in containers so that’s a route where we think this technology makes a lot of sense in terms of carbon footprint reduction and cost savings benefits…

SmartPlanet: What has happened in terms of pilots?

We’ve built 7 or 8 prototypes. We started on the assumption that we could use existing containers and adopt them, but we determined that’s not optimal because existing containers tend to have a lot of damage. So we moved onto using a kit from the largest Chinese supplier of containers, a company called CIMC. We buy kits from them and use about 80% of the kit and the rest we reuse and turn it into the components for the Staxxon folding and nesting technology…

There still needs to be an efficient way of folding and nesting, and then unfolding and un-nesting, the containers. Look for that later this year…