Logistics companies are increasingly focusing on last-mile delivery – the final leg of an item’s journey from a distribution centre to an office or to a householder’s front door. They are under growing pressure to ensure this is done in an environmentally-friendly manner using zero-emission vehicles.
This could mean deploying an electric van – but what if the items carried happen to be chilled or frozen food? The fear is that the power drawn by the refrigeration unit will deplete the vehicle’s batteries thereby significantly shortening its range.
Electric Thermo King
It is a problem that has been tackled head-on by Thermo King with its B-100 ECO electric fridge unit.
It has been on trial on chilled local delivery work in Spain on a temperature-controlled electric Citroen Berlingo owned by van rental giant Northgate. Powered solely by the Berlingo’s 12v auxiliary battery, and with no need to fit a heavy additional battery pack to make it work effectively, the package is a practical one Thermo King contends.
There is no denying the van’s range is affected but the impact is modest says the company.
An eight-hour working day with 32 door opening of a couple of minutes each reduces the Citroen’s range by from 5% to 8.5%. That is a reduction most operators can probably live with, it suggests, bearing in mind that the vehicle’s all-electric status means that it should face minimal restrictions when making deliveries in emission-conscious urban areas.
Aside from the absence of exhaust emissions, the van runs more quietly than one powered by a diesel engine; a significant advantage if deliveries are being made early in the morning or late at night.
The Berlingo’s fridge unit was monitored by Thermo King’s TracKing telematics system. Range of course can be affected by a variety of different factors including payload, driving style and the prevailing weather conditions.
Moving up the weight scale, Thermo King used the recent IAA Hanover Commercial Vehicle Show in Germany to launch its E-200 electric fridge unit on a 3.1-tonne electric Renault Master Z.E in service with refrigerated vehicle rental fleet Petit Forestier. It can handle both chilled and frozen cargo.
Carrier’s Electronic Trial
Thermo King’s units are not the only electric systems Petit Forestier is sampling – and the battery-powered Berlingo is not the only electric van it has in service. Carrier Transicold’s electric NEOS 100 has been fitted to five battery-driven Renault Kangoo Z.Es it has added to its fleet.
In this case the fridge units are powered by compact lithium-ion batteries sourced from Perpetual V2G Systems and separately charged through their own charging point. With this arrangement in place the Kangoo Z.Es have a claimed range of up to 110 miles apiece with up to seven hours of cooling power.
Petit Forestier is using one of the vehicles as a demonstrator while the others are going on trial with key customers.
“We want to be at the forefront of more eco-aware refrigerated transport,” says UK managing director, Pat Skelly. “Our aim is to position Petit Forestier as an early adopter of realistic alternatives to fossil fuels that will help tackle the toxic emissions in our cities.”
The challenges involved in developing an all-electric refrigerated vehicle should not be under-estimated however says Hubbard Products commercial director, Dougie Stoddart.
“Current battery pack technology is very heavy and weight is the common enemy of any refrigerated vehicle no matter how it is powered, effectively limiting the payload and the size of the insulated body,” he observed. “To combat this we are developing lighter-weight power sources along with more intelligent management systems with battery specialists and more efficient body conversions with body builders and converters.”
It also involves considering where and how to fit any ancillary battery pack that may be required given that space under an electric vehicle’s bonnet is inevitably limited.
Electric Truck Refrigeration
As well as tackling the electric light commercial market, Carrier Transicold is also addressing the question of how best to make refrigerated heavy trucks more environmentally-friendly. One of its Syberia TWINCOOL units has gone on trial with Waitrose on a gas-powered Scania P280.
Rather than relying on its own diesel power pack, Syberia TWINCOOL is powered by electricity produced by a generator driven by a hydraulic pump connected to the power take-off on the Scania’s engine. The generator delivers 100% refrigeration capacity even when the engine is just ticking over says Carrier.
The trial is being funded by Innovate UK, a government-backed body. Waitrose is working with researchers from the Centre for Sustainable Road Freight at the University of Cambridge as part of a year-long government-supported low-emissions freight and logistics initiative aimed at showcasing how such a combination could cut fleet emissions.
The Syberia unit has a PIEK-compliant noise level of 60 dB(A) at 100% capacity says Carrier. Established in the Netherlands some years ago, PIEK lays down the maximum amount of noise that can be emitted in urban areas when a vehicle is making night-time deliveries.
“The results of the trial are likely to guide our future fleet specification, hopefully allowing us to focus on continuing to improve the sustainability of our transport operation,” says Waitrose vehicle fleet engineering manager, Simon Gray.
The Waitrose fleet includes more than 400 Carrier Transicold units specified over the past eight years.
Returning to the Hanover exhibition , the vast event saw trailer and body builder Schmitz Cargobull further expand its presence in the refrigerated vehicles market with the launch of the VK.O COOL insulated box body.
Suitable for both chilled and fully-frozen work down to minus 18 degrees C on 3.0- to 6.0-tonne chassis, it uses insulated STRATOPLAST sandwich panels that are either 70mm or 85mm thick.
They feature a polyurethane foam core sandwiched by vapour diffusion blocks made of metallic composites. They are in turn sandwiched by layers made from coloured fibreglass-reinforced plastic.
Schmitz produces the body but leaves it to the customer to specify the fridge unit required. The show vehicle was equipped with a Webasto Frigo Top FT 35 system.
Not just Electric
Electric fridge units on electric vans do not represent the only route to environmental virtue. There are other options that are worth exploring and which may in many respects be more practical says Stoddart.
“We’re receiving increased requests for the development of electric refrigeration systems for petrol-powered vehicles,” he reports. While such an approach does not of course mean that a van is emission-free, it eliminates any concerns about diesel pollution; and with a petrol engine under the bonnet, there is no need for range anxiety.
“Refrigeration systems that use liquid nitrogen, which produces zero emissions, are on trial in the UK and Europe sponsored by Hubbard,” Stoddart says.
There is another well-established zero-emission solution that can be considered, he suggests; eutectic beams. “They are frozen overnight using low-cost electricity and discharge their cold during the working day,” he says.
Stoddart clearly does not believe that temperature-controlled transport has reached a crossroads, with an all-electric solution the only game in town; despite the pressure being imposed on operators by both local and national politicians to reduce or eliminate emissions.
“Pragmatism and commercial reality are more likely to drive the future of transport refrigeration as much as political persuasion,” he observes.
“All refrigerated transport operators are looking for ways to improve their performance environmentally and most importantly influence their cost-effectiveness,” he concludes. “I think this reality is more likely to influence and promote greener, more-sustainable solutions than any legislation can.”