Features & Interviews Logistics Truck

Industry issues in the Cool zone

21 April 2015 #Features & Interviews #Logistics #Truck

It isn’t just trucks that need to be green – refrigerated bodies and trailers are cleaning up their act too. Some of the big players in the Cool zone at the CV Show revealed the issues affecting their segment.

The demand for chilled and frozen food products has ballooned in recent times. It’s not just artics and trailers running into distribution centres, the need for a cool chain has spread to all manner of locations from motorway service areas, and regular filling stations to the boom in home delivery by the major supermarkets. It’s spawned a diverse range of fridge bodies, but it seems they have yet to seriously catch the eye of emissions legislators.

As well as using climate-damaging refrigerants, compressors are run by distinctly un-Euro-6 diesel engines. However the manufacturing industry is tracking them down itself, before they are compelled to. Steve Williams, area sales manager at Thermo King says, “It makes no environmental sense to have a squeaky-clean Euro-6 DAF XF pulling a trailer that uses a Euro-4, or even Euro-3, diesel compressor.”

He agrees that cool chain equipment is behind the curve when it comes to green credentials. “Although many manufacturers like us are making big improvements anyway, more legislation is needed to bring everyone on board.”

As well as upgrading their compressors, the refrigerants used in chiller units are undergoing big change. Leakage in service and during maintenance is bad news when conventional hydro fluorocarbon refrigerants such as R-404A are used. That has a Global Warming Potential (GWP) of 3,920, which the EU is aiming to substantially reduce, and legislation will be on the way.

Disposal at end-of-life is also a big issue, as new, lower GWP refrigerant solutions are here. Thermo King claims to be the first to offer a transition to a safer, more reliable and efficient refrigerant in trailer units, with the next generation refrigerant.

DuPont’s Opteon XP44 (R-452A) is claimed to have half the (GWP) of current refrigerant liquids. Thermo King’s SLXe trailer units, with this next generation refrigerant, are now in production and can be ordered in Europe. Later in 2015, it will be expanding the new refrigerant product availability to rigid bodies, but transition to existing units is also available through a refrigerant replacement service, managed by the dealer network.

Other cool chain equipment manufacturers are exploring gases well outside the traditional refrigerants, and are taking the levels even lower. Justin Grace, Managing Director Northern Europe for Carrier Transicold, explains its new ‘Naturaline’ chiller uses benign CO2 as refrigerant. It has a global warming potential (GWP) of one. He says, “A trial Naturaline vehicle has been with Sainsbury’s since October 2013, successfully operating from its Elstree depot, delivering frozen goods to stores across Greater London. Now we have proof on concept, we will be moving ahead with a full road transport version of this prototype – it was based on the unit used in our deep sea container operation.”

Fridge body designers have a fundamental dilemma, aside from the concerns surrounding emissions. Where to put the chiller unit? Generally the bigger the body, the more the latitude, but nowhere is it easy. For semi-trailers, they inevitably end up on the headboard, although some manufacturers have had a go at under-slung designs between the trailer’s chassis rails, or tucked away near the landing legs. There are benefits here. It is aerodynamically better, and easier to service, and also catches the worst of the salt-laden road grime in winter, which causes more damage potential when coupling up.

But the traditional headboard-mounted design has serious flaws too. Working at height regulations means a simple breakdown on the road – easily fixed in a technical sense – turns into a recovery so the trailer is taken into a workshop where the appropriate access equipment can be used. Covering them up with cab roof spoilers reduces their efficiency and makes access for servicing a chore.

Noise is the final issue makers need to address. Night deliveries can be ruled out with some local authorities now taking a even dimmer view of fridge compressors when they are added to trucks. It’s not the easiest of work for drivers either, but they are being accommodated in a number of ways.

‘Fisher-Price’ style control buttons that can be used by hands in mitts and micro-processor controls with readouts in 16 languages are all useful. But with the UK already working under a driver shortage, fridge trailer manufacturers need to make them more driver-friendly from a noise point of view. The pariah of the truck park, they are often seen corralled into a ghetto of humming hulks in the corner, furthest from the facilities.

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