Alastair has over 10 years’ experience leading research activities in scaled, high-growth industrial and technology markets. At Interact Analysis he is responsible for electric trucks and buses, autonomous trucks and off-highway electrification.
Much focus, rightly so, is given to the full electrification of commercial vehicles. It’s a dramatic shift in a very mature, conservative global market. However, it isn’t the only way of reducing emissions and, for many truck operators, interim solutions may prove an attractive and cost-effective route to meet their efficiency and emission goals.
The Devil Made Work for Idle Engines
Idling – using engines whilst stationary – is a source of air pollution and an inefficient use of a truck’s engine and fuel. However, for vehicles in locations of temperature extremes or carrying temperature sensitive goods, the use of engine power whilst stationary is essential to keep the cabin hot/cold and maintaining the temperature of the trailer.
Historically, this has been achieved through the engine idling, or a diesel-powered auxiliary power unit (APU). However, both create pollution, may be banned in ‘no idling’ zones and are noisy – a source of discomfort to drivers using these systems whilst trying to sleep.
In recent months and years there has been a focus on using shore power – electric hook-ups – that can be used to power a vehicle’s auxiliary systems. Furthermore, electric APUs that feature a battery and are supplemented through renewable power (from solar or regenerative braking) are gaining traction and market acceptance.
Some recent developments in shore power include:
NomadPower – NomadPower offers an electrical charging network for transport refrigerators and freezers along the main European transport routes. By plugging into one of the 300 NomadPower power points and activating them with their smartphone, drivers can cool using electricity during their rests. The network of power points is now available at more than 40 truck parks in 7 European countries.
Shorepower Technologies – designs, manufactures and operates transportation electrification equipment for: Truck Stops (TSE), electric Transport Refrigeration Units (eTRU) and Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (EVSE). Shorepower Technologies is known best for its Truck Stop Electrification power service at over 1,800 parking spots at 60 U.S. locations, where long-haul trucks and refrigerated truck trailers can draw power from the grid rather than idle their engines when parked. Shorepower has gained control of the Shorepower Truck Electrification Project (STEP) after Cascade Sierra Solutions – the third party, non-profit company that administered the grant – shut down for business.
Duke Energy – has invested in providing shore power at several locations in the US. It spent $300,000 to install a system at a truck stop off Interstate 95 in Kenly. The electrification project at Big Boy’s Truck Stop will save an estimated 25,000 gallons of fuel each year and curb the emissions of up to 24 trucks at a time, according to the company. There will also be four plugs to power refrigerated trailers, so truckers won’t need to run diesel compressors. Furthermore, a total of 32 electric power outlets will help trucks at the Golden State Foods (GSF) distribution center cut costs and lower air emissions as part of a Duke Energy electrification project. As one of the largest diversified suppliers to the foodservice and retail industries, GSF will allow cargo trucks to stop idling their engines to keep food cold, and instead plug into power outlets at the facility. The $300,000 project will help lower exhaust emissions and is cheaper than the practice of running trucks on diesel fuel. SafeConnect® Systems installed the power outlets. A total of 36 electric power outlets will help trucks at the Merchants Distributors, LLC (MDI) distribution center in Hickory cut costs and lower air emissions as part of a Duke Energy $320,000 electrification project.
Solar Power Driving Down Fuel Costs
The use of solar panels on trucks – or other vehicles such as caravans – is not new, particularly as a way of maintaining the charge of on-board batteries when not is use. However, in an age demanding better fuel economy or electrification, solar solutions are gaining traction as a way of reducing fuel consumption by allowing electrification of ancillary functions that might typically be driven by the engine or reducing demand on the vehicle’s powertrain battery.
Some recent advances in this market include:
- Thermo King and Chanje are partnering to develop an all-electric refrigerated van that uses solar panels to maintain the temperature of the carried goods and reduce the impact on the powertrain battery.
- Ryder has been announced as the exclusive distributor of the TRAILAR solar system in the UK.
Novel nitrogen-based engine in trials for refrigerated trucks
In early 2019, the UK-based Dearman announced that Sainsbury’s had become the first company in the world to introduce a refrigerated delivery truck cooled by a liquid nitrogen powered engine, which will eliminate all emissions associated with refrigeration. During the three-month trial the vehicle will save up to 1.6 tonnes of carbon dioxide. The trial will also save 37kg of nitrogen oxides and 2kg of particulate matter, compared to a similar diesel system. The truck will operate from Sainsbury’s Waltham Point depot, delivering chilled goods to stores in the London area.
The Dearman engine – a novel piston engine driven by the expansion of liquid nitrogen or liquid air, to produce clean power. Dearman engines operate like high-pressure steam engines, but the low boiling temperature of liquid nitrogen means that low-grade or ambient heat can be used as a heat source, eliminating the need for a traditional fuel.
The use of shore power is almost exclusively limited to the US and Western Europe. This is likely a combination of regulations (no idling zones), the prevalence of frozen transportation and availability of necessary power infrastructure. However, beyond the environmental benefit there is starting to be a growing body of evidence that suggests it can save carriers significant fuel expense. As such, it’s likely that additional shore power facilities will be built in coming years, allowing trucks to be operated without APUs.
The Dearman Engine represents a very novel approach to generating power. The fact that the technology is being trialled with a commercial operator is an indication of how advanced the solution is. The Dearman Engine, if proven to be successful, may prove to be a strong competition to other zero emission refrigeration solutions.
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