• Nikolai Tauber

Economic Drivers Towards Zero-emission Transport Refrigeration

As the world is taking steps towards a zero-emission future, we are seeing new drivetrain technologies applied in areas previously dominated entirely by the combustion of fossil fuels. With a range of options available a careful consideration of trade-offs is required to choose the right technology.

The automotive industry is clearly moving towards battery electrification whilst long distance HGVs need more energy and will benefit from the higher energy density of hydrogen. Hyundai and Nikola are key players in this field, and we are already seeing the first units rolling off the assembly line. Similarly, the aviation industry may also move towards hydrogen (if you ask ZeroAvia), but synthetic fuels and batteries are also on the table. Have a look at the Lilium jet for the latter.

With unprecedented research and development in most transport sectors, it is forgivable to assume that similar radical transformations have happened in the transport refrigeration industry, but what progress has actually been made?

The last decade has seen the transport refrigeration industry pursuing gradual improvements in diesel engine efficiency to keep a steady slow pace with glacial regulatory demands around the world. In the UK, transport refrigeration has enjoyed low red diesel prices around the £0.65/L mark and the main noteworthy event was the requirement to meet Euro5 emission standards in 2019 – a whole decade later than passenger cars.

In the UK, a recent announcement on the removal of red diesel subsidies offers a pivot point for the industry. From April 2022 the cost of diesel will increase by £0.46/L or about 70% providing a substantial incentive to move away from the fuel. With diesel inevitably due to be phased out now is the right time to look at alternatives.

At Sunswap we conducted an in-depth review of different technologies carefully weighting power and energy density against the cost of infrastructure and energy (or fuel). Our study found that Transport Refrigeration Units (TRUs) require 10-20% of the power of a passenger car but about the same amount of energy (imagine a Nissan Leaf with a much smaller motor) placing us in the same league as EVs where charging infrastructure is expanding rapidly and energy (to charge batteries) costs a fraction of diesel.

In addition, we took a more refrigeration-specific viewpoint into account; a trailer has a very large roof surface, and when the sun shines it needs a lot of energy. At the same time, when the sun shines a solar panel can capture a lot of energy providing perfect synergy between supply and demand. Ultimately, we concluded that solar & battery powered TRUs provide the optimum alternative to diesel.

In the period, from 2010 to 2020, battery prices dropped a mind-blowing 87% [BNEF] and solar PV panels experienced a comparably incredible 86% fall [Wood Mackenzie]. Aided by cliff-edge drops in price for key components 2020 will be the first time in history solar PV and battery technology can provide the foundation for clean transport refrigeration at a lower cost than diesel.

At Sunswap we believe that transport refrigeration is due a transformation from diesel to 100% emissions free solar and battery electric technology. We can facilitate the growing appetite to shift to zero-emission transport refrigeration, and with the cost of key components coming down at an incredible pace now is the time to make the shift to a greener future in transport refrigeration.

Nikolai Tauber

Co-founder and CTO at Sunswap