Cold chain turns the heat up on emissions

Cold chain makes up a large part of the logistics industry, with refrigerated transport a key component of the sector. With more people now doing their shopping online, both for special items and, more importantly, groceries, the number of refrigerated trucks or refrigerated transport units (TRUs) has increased. The refrigeration systems on TRUs need to be powered, with the majority of regular auxiliary engines powered by diesel put into the trucks for fuel also powering generators.

However, TRUs are incredibly bad for the environment. The WHO estimates 4.2m people die each year from air pollution related illnesses. 1 TRU produces anything between 3-15 tonnes of CO2 per year, making it equivalent to 9 diesel vehicles. Scaled up, 1m TRUs has the same impact on air pollution and emissions as 56m diesel cars. A 2021 research paper concludes that in the UK, TRU CO2 emissions are 15% higher than a normal delivery vehicle, with nitrogen oxides (NOX) emissions 18% higher. In the US, light-heavy duty transportation vehicles make up over 80% of its total transportation greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, TRUs making up to 9% of this total.

It is clear to see there is an emission problem with TRUs, but it creates a difficult situation for companies which provide services using these vans, as solutions have not been cheap. However, many companies are beginning to consider their options for a more sustainable future. There are also small but significant changes that companies can make to reduce TRU emissions. For example, a simple colour change from a dark brown and black to yellows and silvers can produce less emissions due to heat absorption. The weight of the vehicles also impacts the level of emissions. These factors all need to be considered when thinking of how to move away from diesel powered generators.

There may be opportunities arising to address TRU emissions in the not too distant future. In the UK for example, there will be a removal of the red diesel subsidy. TRUs use red diesel to run the vehicles and fridges. It is taxed at 50% less than regular diesel, which has been used as an incentive for the continued use of diesel to run the engines and fridges of the trucks. In 2022, that subsidy will end for all vehicles apart from agricultural. The extra cost for red diesel to fuel the trucks and power generators is estimated to reach at least £1,750 per truck per year. It is at this point in time which offers an unprecedented opportunity for a wholescale change to alternatively powered TRUs.

Hultsteins is a British-Swedish diesel-free refrigerated transportation company. It has proposed the use of its own tried and tested solution to bypass the utilisation of diesel power on board TRUs. It owns a series of trucks in its fleet that counter the use of diesel to power its generators and fridges. The main truck model is called Ecogen, a truck which uses a small electric generator. The Hultsteins system does not fully replace the diesel power but creates a hybrid system. Using both the diesel from fuel and the small electric generator, the hybrid system constantly produces 400V of potential, even when sat idle.

The company states it saves up to 90% of diesel consumption per unit. Hultsteins estimates Ecogen can save 20 tonnes in carbon emissions per unit per annum. Additionally, carbon and nitrogen emissions can be reduced up to 95%. As such, sustainable investors will be looking at this in more detail in the future, with some UK-based road freight companies already looking into this, such as Gist.

More than just the Ecogen system is available on the market, with other companies exploring the use of large-scale batteries and solar panels to power generators. A collaboration between Sunswap and Cenex is aimed at reducing emissions in TRUs through the development of solar powered generators. The energy is stored in high-power batteries, however there is also the scope to include solar panels on the roof of vehicles. This will help companies to reach a variety of demand from customers.

Other companies such as Sainsbury’s are also exploring the opportunity to innovate its own emissions-saving technology, and has rolled out five fully electric TRUs to its fleet in 2021. It is now further investing further in innovation to continue decreasing its emissions. The company claims the new TRUs will help save 4 tonnes of carbon per year. Sunswap itself has secured further funding of £3m from Barclays Bank to accelerate the development of fully electric, zero emissions TRUs, promising between 80-93% global warming impact savings. Although there is still a long way to go, it is clear that some companies are attempting to embrace the chance to make major climate-orientated changes.


Source: Transport Intelligence, 7 April, 2022

Author: Alex Bullard


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