Transport refrigeration and the electric revolution

One area that’s often overlooked when it comes to cleaning up the truck and transport industry is that of emissions relating to refrigeration units. ElectricDrives caught up with Norman Highnam, a transport refrigeration consultant and cold chain expert. Highnam is a Member of the Institute of Refrigeration (MinstR) with over 35 years of experience in the logistics and supply chain sector with a focus on transport refrigeration in the United Kingdom and the EU.

ED: How are refrigeration units traditionally powered?

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NH: Traditionally the transport refrigeration units (TRU) fitted to the trucks and trailers delivering to schools and shops have been powered by an independent diesel engine powering the refrigeration unit. These engines are classed as Non Road Mobile Machinery (NRMM) and have not followed the progress of the truck engines, which have reached the Euro6 emission standards. The move to phase out these diesel donkey engines has started with the UK Government removing the use of a rebated diesel fuel called red diesel from April 2022.

ED: How green can cooling be?

NH: The need to cool and control the climate in transit is increasing as we introduce new modes of transport. The drive to go green for cooling is starting to make traction across the United Kingdom, with both Scotland and Wales including the transport refrigeration sector in their emissions criteria.

Some of the major advances are the introduction of alternative power sources attached to the actual truck engine. These drive the transport refrigeration units without the need for running the diesel engine during its journey. These generators produce enough power from the existing truck engine to provide a secure and safe emission-free transport refrigeration unit.

ED: How can the energy for the refrigeration units be generated?

NH: An industrial revolution in electric supply options has arrived. This includes generators fitted to liquid gas engines, battery packs fitted underneath the trailers and the truck. Also, hydrogen fuel cells, axles with embedded generators and solar panelled options are all designed to provide the power requirements to keep the transport refrigeration units running diesel-free. Plus the potential for the commercial fleets to utilise the emerging power point  networks across the UK.

ED: Will electric energy be key to the success of this?

NH: The UK has some great opportunities to lead the world on emission and ozone-free cooling in this ever-growing transport sector. Electric will be the key to its success. This could be from providing the power for magnetic cooling or the output from low-pressure hydrogen systems running the truck and fridge together. However, we need to also invest in effective insulation and look to intelligent delivery systems that can coordinate fleets via vehicle and route optimisation linked to emissions.

Ian Osborne
Ian Osborne
Editor-in-Chief at ElectricDrives

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