Making the impossible, possible

Having now been in his Thermo King position for just over a year, Dwayne Cowan talks to Global Trailer about decarbonisation, electrification and the important role the industry has in reducing global food waste.
Thermo King

With every success comes the opportunity, and some might even argue the obligation, to make a difference and right a wrong. At least that is the direction Dwayne Cowan is taking as he guides Thermo King in his role as President, Europe, Middle East, Africa.

The wrong, in this case, is food waste, a global scourge considering we live in a world where hundreds of millions of people go hungry daily.

“We have an important role to play in cutting food waste,” said Cowan. “Globally, 30 per cent of food is lost or wasted, while 1.3 billion people experience food insecurity. This is where our industry can make a difference. Having an efficient and sustainable cold chain reduces food waste and helps to put food on tables across the world. This is where we need to step up.”

This ideology comes under a very large environmental, social and governance umbrella which goes beyond just cutting emissions, although Cowan notes that is very much the current priority.

For Thermo King and its parent company, Trane Technologies, the road to net zero is multi-layered and addressed with a variety of strategies, commitments and initiatives, but the message is quite clear.

“Sustainability is undoubtedly front and centre for the transport industry,” he said, reiterating the fact that Thermo King is investing heavily in this area. Industry-wide, we must continue to focus on zero emission innovation.”

This is particularly true for Cowan. With the European market under his leadership, he sees first-hand the fast pace to which the European Commission is toughening legislation. Zero emissions zones (ZEZ) are becoming mainstream with plans in place, for example, to create 35 ZEZs by 2030 including 26 in the Netherlands.

“We have of course been aware of this direction and have been investing heavily in electrification—alongside other sustainable fuel sources such as hydrotreated vegetable oils (HVOs),” Cowan said.

‘Our hybrid refrigeration systems for trucks and trailers T-Series Hybrid, UT Hybrid refrigeration systems, Advancer A-Series and SLXi seamlessly switch between diesel and electric mode, allowing transporters to operate in inner cities, residential areas and low emission zones with the unit’s diesel engine turned off.

Our Advancer-A series refrigeration unit for trailers has the lowest environmental impact of any trailer refrigeration unit available on the market, globally. The Advancer’s unrivalled electrical and fuel efficiency contributes to a lower CO2 footprint – 50 per cent less emissions.

We are advocates of zero emissions regulations, at the pace of availability and scale for our customers’ operations.

“Customers want to test the new electrical units, prove their ease of use, and reliability of the fleet management systems,” he said. “They also need time to evaluate the infrastructural needs and changes to their operation to ensure seamless integration.”

Thermo King’s sustainability plan

In 2021 Thermo King announced the company’s all-electric portfolio, branded ‘evolve’ and its commitment to invest more than $100 million over the subsequent three years to deliver a fully electric product in every segment of the cold chain in EMEA by 2023.

This year, Thermo King has been actively working on developing an electric unit within the truck segment with an interface to access the power from the battery of the vehicle and are now moving to take this technology to larger trucks. With small trucks it has launched a new platform, E-500, that is fully compatible with the latest electric chassis.

Meanwhile, its engineers have been working on a fully independent solution for its trailer portfolio – the AxlePower solution. Collaborating with BPW, Thermo King has developed a system that electrically powers the refrigeration component by reusing the energy typically lost on the road, capturing it and storing it in a battery.

“We’re confident that together with BPW we have created an innovative and world class energy recovery system which delivers immediate and long-term sustainability benefits while also helping cut day-to-day operating costs.”

The AxlePower system is currently being trialled in the field with different customers operating different applications and different trailer refrigeration units. The results so far show that the energy generation system has only a marginal impact on the tractor fuel consumption. As an additional bonus, the driver’s well-being is shown to improve thanks to considerably reduced sound and vibration levels.

This development and other projects, including the company’s zero-waste to landfills goal and its goal to become net-positive with water use in water-stressed locations, are all part of Trane Technologies’ 2030 Sustainability Commitments and its pledge to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The company’s emissions reductions targets have been externally validated by the Science Based Targets Initiative.

Also included in Trane Technologies’ 2030 Sustainability Commitments is its Gigaton Challenge – a pledge to reduce customers’ greenhouse gas emissions by 1 billion metric tons  (or, 1 gigaton).


A trend Cowan is seeing is customers becoming more interested in asset tracking and real time visibility.

“Electrification brings a significant transformation in our products and how we create value for our customers” he said, “an electric product is not just a mechanical design, software and connectivity are just as important. This means devices are smarter and once you have smart devices, the possibilities are endless”. Thermo King has led the way in connectivity for transport refrigeration. Today the company has connectivity solutions across their product range. Cowan continued “This year we went beyond our refrigeration units and released a new feature called Trailer Assist Premium in our TracKing platform. This new feature allows Thermo King TracKing™ customers to leverage EBS, odometer, axle-load and TPMS data and further optimise their trailers’ uptime, maintenance and fuel efficiency. With easy access to comprehensive information about the status of their refrigerated trailers via TracKing™, customers will be able to act and react to operate more efficiently, avoid unscheduled downtime, reduce fuel consumption and create more sustainable transport.

But we also found other opportunities to serve our customers” he added, “We launched a 24 x 7 monitoring service run by Thermo King refrigeration experts. Our monitoring teams utilize machine data, take remote actions or orchestrate field actions, delivering increased uptime and cargo safety for our customers.”

Dealer Networks

Thermo King’s dealer network provides multi-language, 24-hour a day support to any vehicle on the road. Its focus, says Cowan, is to make sure its dealer management system provides dealers with the right facilities and skills to support customers. Current goals include ensuring the network is fully high voltage and electric ready.

The future

Decarbonisation is obviously the biggest focus in the industry and will remain so for some time to come, but there are other significant trends to consider as well, including digitalisation. Embedding digitalisation into the solutions for customers ensures end-to-end connectivity, helping to ensure visibility for them across the entire supply chain.

“Supply chain resilience is also key in a changing world,” he says. “Companies need to be able to respond quickly and effectively to fast moving economic, technological and market changes to minimise disruption.”

Going forward, Cowan is optimistic about the future of the industry, and is dedicated to leading by example with adopting and scaling industry-changing technology and solutions. He sees Thermo King contributing heavily to this movement.

“We will continue to deploy our comprehensive approach to not only electrification and decarbonisation, but also our expertise in digitalization and connectivity,” he says.

“We are making what was once the impossible, possible – bringing our purpose to boldly challenge what’s possible for a sustainable world to life.”


Visitors at this year’s event will see Thermo King’s latest commercially available solutions. These will include:

  • Advancer-e – an all-electric, engineless and power agnostic trailer refrigeration unit that can operate with several different power sources for zero-emission trailer refrigeration.
  • AxlePower.
  • E-500e: a 100 per cent electric powered flagship unit in the E-series range for urban deliveries.
  • Frigoblock FK2: all-electric transport refrigeration unit for rigid trucks and ideal for sustainable and powerful multi-drop urban distribution.
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