Businesses pilot all-electric reefer innovation

Four companies have collaborated for a nine-month pilot in the Netherlands, which will see diesel refrigeration systems in semi-trailers replaced by zero-emission battery-electric prototypes.

The partnership is between equipment service provider TIP Trailer Services, global consumer goods company, Unilever, green technology experts, Maxwell and Spark, and transport company, Daily Logistics Group (DLG).

This new innovation, according to TIP, keeps freight chilled at temperatures down to -25°C and will be tested to run entirely on renewable electricity.

If successful, it could save 20-25 tonnes of CO2 per reefer trailer annually, with air quality benefits for each vehicle equivalent to taking 70 passenger cars off the road.

Once the full pilot has completed, the technology could be rolled out further, providing a lower impact logistics solution.

TIP has more than 50 years of expertise in managing and maintaining reefer trailers which proved to be crucial in this collaboration. This new type of reefer should be easy to operate, maintenance friendly, economically viable and independent from the tractor unit. Innovations and

Sustainability are key pillars for strategic growth and TIP strongly believes that the cooperation with Maxwell & Spark will electrify the reefer industry with a scalable innovation.

“I am very proud of the end result; besides time and costs my team added a lot of technical expertise,” said TIP Vice President, Rogier Laan.

“TIP has seen its customers increasingly look to adopt cleaner and more efficient trailer solutions, and we want to be the best industry partner.

“We support innovative solutions that drive the industry to be more sustainable. So, we’re keeping a close eye on technical developments within our industry and regularly partner up with other partners, like Maxwell & Spark, to bring sustainable solutions to the market.”

As the starting point in this pilot, South African green-tech pioneer Maxwell and Spark has designed and built bespoke lithium-ion battery based systems to power a Thermo King Advancer refrigeration system in four trailers.

“This exciting collaboration builds on the work we’ve been doing over the last few years to replace fossil fuels in industrial and commercial environments,” said Maxwell and Spark CEO, Clinton Bemont.

“In 2016, we began investigating the viability of lithium-ion batteries with high energy density for transport refrigeration power.

“Our experience since then in South Africa has been hugely positive, and this cutting-edge technology has real potential for deployment at scale.”

DLG runs Unilever’s cold chain distribution network in Benelux and for this pilot, chose and trained dedicated drivers for the new trailers.

“DLG is convinced that transparency helps us to find safer and cleaner logistics solutions,” said DLG CEO, Joost Visbeen.

“By working with partners, we can offer sustainable transport options that reduce CO2, while ensuring continued customer and job satisfaction.”

Owning brands including Magnum, Cornetto, Dove and Domestos, Unilever has set targets to halve the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions footprint of its products by 2030 and achieve net zero in its value chain by 2039.

The company estimates that it will need to reduce GHG emissions from its logistics by 40-50 per cent by 2030, and is committed to working with innovation partners to find new solutions and bring them to scale.

“With logistics and distribution accounting for around 15 per cent of our emissions, we are moving our cold chain to cleaner sources of energy,” said Michelle Grose, Head of Logistics and Fulfilment at Unilever.

“We are partnering with innovators to pioneer new technology and find new solutions. This journey of co-creation will provide us with valuable learnings and insights to help us lower emissions from our vehicle fleet.”

The four trailers in this pilot will have a modified Thermo King reefer engine (Advancer A400) in combination with a specialised battery system from Maxwell and Spark (70 kilowatt-hours (kWh).

The purpose of this test, according to TIP, is to run the reefer completely on electricity during working hours, charging the battery during inactive moments on location with a normal three-phase power connection. The reefers are being used in the most demanding applications, providing service for frozen food transport.

This innovative system is being tested using entirely renewable electricity and will only use diesel as a contingency measure.