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    Electra Commercial Vehicles blazes the way for solar-powered electric trailers

    Reynolds Catering Supplies is one of the first companies in the UK to have a fully electric Electra Commercial Vehicles’ Solar Charging Refrigerated Trailer in operation. This reduces the company’s emissions significantly.  

    Waltham Cross-based Reynolds Catering Supplies initially approached Electra in 2018 with the idea of creating a fully electric refrigerated trailer and tractor unit combination for urban operation. 

    Ben Smith, MD for Electra Commercial Vehicles, said: “Electra picked up the challenge and designed a bespoke system for the trailer, which is still in use today. Reynolds has been operating the trailer since mid-2019. 

    “The 11m Gray & Adams trailer features Electra’s scalable fully electric system coupled with a Frigoblock EK25 electric fridge. Moreover, the system also delivers considerable benefits by adding charge from solar panels fitted on the roof.”

    Journey 

    Although the trailer has been in zero-emission operation for well over three years, the solar array had not been fully utilised. Initially, the plan was to use the solar array to provide power directly to the 700-volt system but, unfortunately, this proved inefficient with little benefit. 

    Electra looked at many options. The design team noted that generators are now fitted into trailer axles. Still, early reports said this harmed diesel consumption of the tractor units towing trailers with this technology. 

    Earlier in 2022,  Electra`s design team formulated a method to use solar panels to charge the system. This operates the battery thermal management system, charge control systems and tail-lift operation. 

    This required a workshop visit to Electra’s headquarters in Blackburn for the trailer re-wiring and refurbishment of the electrical system. New software had to be specifically created in-house. 

    Smith added: “The trailer is now fully operational transporting catering goods all over the country. When combined with an electric tractor unit, it creates zero emissions and can deliver PEAK-compliant quiet operation, ideal for night-time deliveries which Reynolds has to carry out regularly. 

    “If required, it can operate with any existing tractor unit without needing an additional generator fitted.”

    Technology

    The Electra system is fully scalable which means a refrigerated trailer can be built to suit its operation, where run time and payload are critical. This specific unit is fitted with a 62kWh battery pack and Electra EV system which runs the refrigeration unit at ambient temperature on a multi-drop round for over 12 hours. 

    Electra can fit up to 420kWh of battery storage enabling the electric vehicle (EV) trailer to be used for over a week before requiring charging. This is without the solar array energy factored in which will save around 10 kWh per day. All Electra EV trailers and battery electric vehicles (BEVs) are fitted with onboard chargers and can be charged from any 32amp 3-phase power outlet. 

    The Frigoblock fridge system can also be run from shoreline power while stationary to save the onboard battery power. With thermally managed batteries, it can operate in outside temperatures of -30 to +50 degrees. 

    Other electrical ancillaries, such as a tail lift or working lights, can be easily accommodated. Control systems are automated – typically, the driver would have no other input than connecting the charge leads when required.

    Benefits 

    Steve White, Head of Fleet for Reynolds, said: “With the stop on red diesel sales and the ever-growing pressure for operators to reduce their carbon emissions, this technology has proven that it is the future for this type of operation. Reynolds has been impressed with the trailer’s pull-down rate, which is quicker than initially expected. 

    “There’s a boost setting that can reduce the temperature from 17C° to 1C°  in eight minutes. In addition to a distribution setting, which operates at the standard 85dB, the fridge also has a whisper mode, making it ideal for night-time deliveries. It sounds like a fan and is considerably quieter than a truck at idle.”

    The Future – Now

    Smith concluded: “We are discussing with Reynolds and several other customers about building more units and concentrating our efforts on one of the more challenging types of trailers – double decks. 

    “With Electra’s ever-growing range of electric trucks and now hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicles, we are ideally placed to expand further into clean technology propulsion systems. 

    “With most of our fully electric refrigerated trucks already in operation and a 19-tonne hydrogen fuel cell electric truck currently on trial with a major supermarket, Electra is already considerably reducing carbon emissions for the automotive and transport sector.”

    Earlier this year, Manchester City Council announced it will replace almost half of its refuse collection vehicles with Electra electric vehicles. 

    Ian Osborne
    Ian Osborne
    Editor-in-Chief at ElectricDrives

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