As international transportation of liquids has become more popular with expansions in the beverage, alcohol, and LNG markets, a great deal of solutions for shipping liquids have become available. For example, shipping wine internationally is more complicated than just protecting it from spills. Certain containers need to be used to keep the wine from going bad. Both ISO tanks and Flexitanks are viable options for moving liquids domestically or internationally, and each has its benefits and drawbacks. But there are many other liquid shipping options on the market that may suit your business model better.
What Are My Liquid Shipping Options?
Let’s talk about some of the differences between these containerized liquid shipping options and which may be best for your situation:
ISO tanks are reusable, stainless steel, liquid tanks. The vessel is fitted inside a 20’ container frame – with entirely open sides, top, and bottom. Due to the stainless steel construction of the tanks, the containers never contaminate, are reusable, and easy to clean. The tanks are quite robust and are a much safer option for shipping hazardous liquids such as LNG, Gasoline, Oil, and Fuel. Here are some of the specs of a common ISO tank:
- Capacity: ISO tanks have a capacity of 26,000 liters (or 6,868 gallons,) making them slightly larger than a flexitank.
- Availability: ISO tanks are significantly more difficult to obtain given the highly inflated demand over the current supply. While this won’t inhibit you from getting your hands on one, the capture may be a bit more spendy than your alternative options.
Flexitanks are another liquid shipping option. They are non-reusable, large plastic bags that can store large amounts of liquid. Liquids are loaded into the bag and the bag is then moved into a 20’ standard shipping container. A benefit of flexitanks is that they are always available, whereas ISO tanks need to be rented, moved to your location, and cleaned before/after utilization. Flexitanks also hold the benefit of cost-effectiveness. The materials used in the construction of flexitanks have improved significantly greatly reducing oxygen mitigation and improving the overall security and safety of the bags. Keep in mind that some carriers will only accept shipping flexitanks made from certain manufacturers.
- Capacity: Flexitanks have a capacity of 24,000 liters (or 6,340 gallons) which allows them to hold a very similar amount of liquid as an ISO tank.
- Availability: Flexitanks, given their ease of manufacture and high supply, are significantly easier to obtain. This inverted supply/demand curve to ISO tanks makes flexitanks cheaper.
Other Liquid Shipping Options
ISO tanks and flexitanks will undoubtedly be your best option for moving large quantities of liquids internationally, however, other liquid shipping options do exist for special circumstances. If you are moving small amounts of liquid on a per-project basis, or are less intimately involved in the international liquid sales industry as others, you may find these to be a couple of viable options for your situation:
A liquid shipping drum will hold a very low amount of liquid but are used as an alternative to ship liquids internationally via a regular shipping container. Essentially, a 20′ shipping container can hold up to 80 drums stacked on pallets, and each individual drum can carry a total capacity of 200-liters. Thus, a 20′ container maxed out on capacity (filled with liquid drums) will carry a total of 16,000 liters.
Both a flexitank and a container full of liquid drums must be purchased as an FCL 20′ container. So for the same price, you can choose to ship 16,000 liters or 24,000 liters. This makes drums a bad choice for FCL shipments. However, the ability to break your liquid shipments down into 200-liter increments makes them a fantastic option for small project based liquid shipping if you consolidate them as an LCL shipment with other cargo. We all know the line between FCL and LCL shipments can get a bit gray.
IBC shipping containers, otherwise known as an intermediate bulk container, IBC tote, or pallet tank, are liquid containers the size of a pallet positioned in a metal cage. IBC’s are forklift-friendly as the metal cage the container is positioned in allows it to be easily moved into and out of a container with a forklift. Since IBC’s are the size of a pallet and are stackable, they are a fantastic solution for transporting liquid in small, moderate, or large quantities.
The average IBC stores 1,040 liters (229 gallons) of liquid, although versions do exist that can hold up to 1,250 liters (275 gallons). You will often hear the former referred to as a “1,000 liter IBC”, however, there is room to squeeze in the extra 40 liters should you need it. Unless you plan on moving liquid in quantities of 500 liters or less, IBC’s are often the most common, safe, cost-efficient, and effective way of moving LCL liquid and often serve as a great way to move liquid as FCL.
Comparing Your Liquid Shipping Options
Knowing which liquid shipping options are best for you depends on your circumstance. How much liquid are you moving? Where are you moving it? When it comes down to it, do you value low cost, ease of transport, or safety of your cargo? Here are our recommendations based on our experience moving each type of liquid container:
If your main concern is maintaining low cost on your shipments, you will find that IBC’s and drums are your best option. These containers are easy to purchase and depending on your choice, you will be able to move liquid in increments as low as 200-1,000 liters. By far, we would recommend using IBC’s over drums since they are sturdier, easier to handle by forklift, and don’t risk tipping over during shipping.
Moving full container loads of liquid gives you a few different options. Flexitanks will allow you to move 24,000 liters of liquid for a relatively low cost, however, not all carriers will move flexitanks out of concern that they will damage the container they are placed in. Any sharp edges or cracks in a container can case a flexitank to leak. Almost all flexitanks are not allowed to be moved via intermodal, so keep this in mind if you were planning a railway line-haul of your liquid. Also, depending on how far you are moving your flexitank, drayage costs can stack up quickly. Do as much research as possible before using a flexitank. They can be a fantastic solution, but only for the right customer.
ISO tanks are a far safer way to move liquid and can store up to 26,000 liters. These containers will not leak and are accepted by almost all carriers. However, the advantages come at a price. With the low availability, rental charges, loading and unloading, and cleaning fees, ISO tanks will quickly become your most expensive option for moving liquid.
Your last option for moving liquid FCL would be IBC’s. While you won’t be able to fit quite as much liquid in a shipping container using IBC’s as you would with flexitanks or ISO tanks, a 20′ container can fit 20 IBC’s making for a total of 20,800 liters (5,490 gallons) of liquid. However, unlike flexitanks which are usually filled close to the port, IBC’s are often transported from inland to the port. Maxing out a 20′ container with IBC’s will cause you to run into weight issues as your container will weigh around 45,000lbs. Special chassis are required at 36,000lbs, so make sure to talk to your carrier before loading a container full of IBC’s.
Your main two options for moving liquid as safely as possible are ISO tanks and IBC’s. An ISO tank’s durable construction makes it a very safe option for moving liquid via FCL. Although IBC’s are not quite as durable as an ISO tank, their boxy construction, dimensions, and stackability make them easy and safe to handle and keep them from tipping during shipping (unlike the risks present with drums.) Regardless of your liquid container selection, always be sure to insure your shipments.
Choosing the right liquid shipping options and solutions all boils down to your priorities. If you need fast, cheap options for moving liquid in small quantities, drums and ICB’s will be your best option. However, if you want to move mass amounts of liquid safely across the country, IBC’s and ISO tanks should work great. Of couse, these solutions will be a bit pricier. If you are still pondering which option is right for your company, give our team a call at Interlog USA. We would love to help you make the right selection!