Green alliance

An industry-leading collaboration between three major transport players is making waves, demonstrating that innovation is about sharing knowledge and, sometimes, working with what you already have. In this feature, we speak to leaders from these companies to find out how they did it, and what it means for the planet.
thermo king

An industry-leading collaboration between three major transport players is making waves, demonstrating that innovation is about sharing knowledge and, sometimes, working with what you already have. In this feature, we speak to leaders from these companies to find out how they did it, and what it means for the planet.

By combining the best in design acumen, industry knowledge and passion for sustainability, three global companies are collaborating on a sustainable power solution for refrigerated transportation.

Together, BPW, TIP Group and Thermo King are helping ensure industrial climate targets are on track, but with a point of difference – they are not discounting already existing diesel-fuelled reefers.

“In order to achieve the ambitious emissions targets by 2030, it is necessary to think about retrofitting existing refrigerated vehicles,” said BPW General Manager of Trailer Solutions and Mobility Services, Thore Bakker.

“There are approximately 300,000 diesel driven refrigerated trailers in use in Europe. A second low-emission life is both ecological and economical.”

This new technology turns the energy, typically lost by a trailer during transit, into clean, sustainable power for refrigerated tailer units.

The claim is strong, but they are confident that what they have designed is an industry-first in multiple ways. Laurent Debias, Product Management and Marketing leader for refrigerated transport company Thermo King, in Europe, Middle East and Africa, said that the alliance have done something special.

“We’re confident that we have created the most intelligent, most flexible, most cost efficient and most sustainable axle generator system to power transport refrigeration on the market,” he says, adding that the ePower axle and AxlePower battery solution, will allow fleet owners to future-proof their trailers, which means meeting lower emission requirements from regulators and reducing operational costs at the same time.

For Thermo King, designing and manufacturing solutions that create a more sustainable future has long been a priority. It introduced electrification refrigerated transport early on, considering it a responsibility to lead the industry. Today it has either zero, or low-emission, solutions available in all segments of the market.

But uniquely, Thermo King sees a perpetual urgency when it comes to developing new sustainable products. Partnering with industry experts who have their own set of strengths, such as BPW and TIP Group, is speeding up its progress in bringing new solutions to the sector and instigating change.

“Sustainability is undoubtfully front and centre for the transport industry,” Debias said.

“The tougher CO2 limits for heavy goods vehicles proposed by the European Commission are going in the right direction, but the industry needs to move faster.”

Thore Bakker

How does the axle work?

The ePower axle generates energy in the trailer, while driving and deceleration, which can then be used to operate any refrigeration unit from Thermo King and Frigoblock. This way the kinetic energy typically lost by a trailer during transit is recycled efficiently.

Using two generators, BPW has developed a balanced system, sized for real world applications, to enable the trailer to finish its route with a charged battery. The ePower axle has four generator modes that can be selected, depending on the driving situation. Automatic and smart mode, for example, means that the generator produces electric energy depending on the power demand and driving situation, while recuperation only mode means that the axle generator produces electrical energy ie. only while braking. This avoids additional fuel consumption of the towing vehicle.

Meanwhile, the AxlePower system stores the generated energy in a high voltage battery and reuses it to power the refrigeration unit. The battery pack, depending on battery size and set point, provides up to eight hours of refrigeration unit autonomy to cover stationary operations. Featuring smart power management that controls the engagement and disengagement of the generators, AxlePower also minimises the resistance on the tractor and provides the driver and fleet manager with real-time battery charge visibility to avoid ‘charge anxiety’.

“A lot of energy is lost when your vehicles are on the road which can be re-used to keep your load at optimum temperature,” said Vice President for Global Sales and Marketing for TIP Group’s Trailer Services, Rogier Laan.“That’s what the energy-recuperation axle does.”

The AxlePower solution is available in hybrid or fully electric, giving full flexibility to meet operational needs. Depending on the configuration, this can save the freight forwarded up to 4,000 litres of diesel per year, all while reducing CO2 emissions.

Product example

Pairing AxlePower with Thermo King’s most powerful unit is giving the company a strong offering and a good example of what can be done with a mix of top-quality technology.

Thermo King’s A-500 Whisper-Pro is part of the award-winning Advancer range of refrigerated units and is much-touted for being one of the quietest on the market. The unit is PIEK certified, which means it meets the most stringent noise regulation in the transport industry. The Advancer range is up to 30 per cent more fuel efficient than the previous generation, reducing time off the road for planned maintenance by 30 per cent and unplanned maintenance by up to 60 per cent. Fleet intelligence is also standard, and it includes two years of full, two-way telematics connectivity service, fully integrated with the Energ-e Pack (battery and power management system) and axle data, providing operational control in one place.

Laurent Debias

The process

For Thermo King, the implementation of the AxlePower solution in their reefers had to include what its clients were asking for and, at one point, meant going back to the drawing board and designing the units from the ground up.

“They told us what they needed to work better, to win more business, to increase sustainability and to cut their cost of operation,” said Debias.

“As a result, Advancer is fully compatible with alternative power sources. This approach and resulting flexibility allow our customers to adopt more sustainable solutions without the need to redesign their operations. It’s a future proof investment today that meets the needs to tomorrow.”

E-Axle and AxlePower have been the subject of a number of field trials across Europe, with various clients operating a number of different applications and trailer refrigeration unit combinations.

The very first trailers equipped with this technology are part of the rental fleet of TIP Group. They are currently in use by three freight forwarders, delivering food to the Dutch supermarket chain Albert Heijn. With silent running and no CO2 emissions from the refrigeration unit when powered by the AxlePower system, the technology allows them to easily run inner-city deliveries, including in Ultra-low Emission Zones.

“After the second evaluation round with carriers, our initial suspicions were confirmed and we now know the trailer is capable of functioning independently,” Laan said of the trials.

“The trailers have been operating for the past few months without being plugged in. The performance of the e-Axle exceeds expectations in maintaining the battery pack at a satisfactory voltage level, without any noticeable increase in fuel consumption according to truck data.”

According to TIP Group, the drivers involved in the trial have reported that the trailers are user-friendly and fulfil their intended purpose seamlessly.

Market goals

The challenge now is spreading the word. The three companies involved in the collaboration each have their own markets and methods on improving the uptake.

TIP Group understands that there is still a level of uncertainty among fleet owners when it comes to the transition to emission-free alternatives. TIP’s goal is to actively work to address the uncertainty and ensure that whatever cold-chain distribution does, that its offering is practical but also reliable. They are doing this by building specific business cases and thoroughly identifying and exploring the best solutions for each individual customer.

“By conducting in-depth analyses and assessments, we aim to provide the industry with the necessary information and insights to confidently embrace all-electric alternatives,” said Laan.

BPW is focusing on involvement with associations and committees to increase acceptance and unbureaucratic certification for new solutions, such as this power solution. They, along with TIP Group, are offering interested parties the opportunity to test the refrigerated trailer with AxlePower  themselves.  Meanwhile, Thermo King is putting its global dealer network to good use and is focusing on partnerships with customers, learning what they require and understanding what they feel comfortable investing in.

“We are close with our customers around the world. We listen to their needs, share our expertise and advise to help them find solutions that are not only good for their operations today, but  in the future,” Debias says.

The obstacles

While the future goal of zero emissions may look possible, there are still some obstacles in the way, one of them being countries’ reluctancy to unify their legislative positions.

“The transport industry is working intensively on solutions, but implementation is still slow,” Laan said, adding that the reason for that is simply lack of experience.

Cost is another issue for many fleet owners, says Bakker, who calls for more political and financial incentives in Europe and worldwide.

“Solutions are still very expensive and require high initial investments because scaling effects do not yet take effect in production,” said Bakker.

He also senses, in Europe at least, that there is a certain amount of anxiety surrounding reaching destinations and the role of traffic, with the question of charging infrastructure still an uncertainty.

The future

The role of the tailer is always considered in terms of the future, explains Bakker. He sees technical and legal obstacles being a given, but he also sees a huge amount of scope for the combination of trailers, batteries and axles.

In terms of future market interest in low emission refrigerated trailers, any legislation means there will be a steady upturn.

“The last few years has shown strong growth when it comes to Low/Ultra Low Emission Zones (LEZs and ULEZs),” said Debias – adding that between 2019 and 2022 the total number of active LEZs in Europe increased by 40 per cent. “Just as importantly, we’re also beginning to see the mainstream emergence of ZEZs which will no longer allow the use of internal combustion engines.”

Plans are now in place to create 35 ZEZs by 2030, including 26 in the Netherlands aimed purely at restricting delivery vehicles.

In 2021, Thermo King announced the company’s all-electric portfolio, branded ‘evolve’ and the news that it would invest more than $100 million over the next three years to deliver a fully electric product in every segment of the cold chain. It reached that milestone this year in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

“Innovation that is focused on zero emissions is the future reality of our industry,” said Debais.

It is clear the work involved in transforming the way refrigerated trailers are powered will continue and the results will eventually find their way to the roads. How quickly and successfully this will be done remains in the hands of those at the forefront of the industry and how well they work together for that common goal.

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