Chilling Effects: The Hidden Environmental Cost of Transport Refrigeration

Every day, thousands of trucks traverse our cities, delivering the perishable goods we rely on, from fresh vegetables to frozen dinners. However, there’s a dirty secret hiding behind this essential service: the diesel engines that keep these deliveries cool.

Transport Refrigeration Units (TRUs) are the unsung workhorses of the supply chain, responsible for keeping our food fresh during transport, but also silently poisoning the air we breathe.

While we’ve made significant strides in reducing emissions from the trucks themselves, with the adoption of cleaner Euro VI. Yet, many of these cleaner modern vehicles are still hauling around outdated, heavily polluting diesel-powered refrigeration units.

The majority of TRUs in operation today are powered by ageing diesel engines, which emit alarming levels of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter (PM) – up to 16 and 40 times more than the trucks they’re attached to. A single TRU can also emit between 12 tonnes of CO2 annually. This is, in part, why 2-4% of the UK’s total GHG emission is associated with food refrigeration.

The truth is that these often unseen bits of tech, so crucial to how we buy our groceries or get our medicine, are having a big impact on air quality and public health in our urban areas.

Keeping Cool With Zero-Emissions
One UK based company is leading the charge in developing sustainable refrigeration, Sunswap. The team based in Leatherhead, Surrey has created the first purpose-built fully-electric transport refrigeration unit which is set to roll-out onto British roads this spring.

Powered by an on-board battery and solar panels on the roof of the trailer, Sunswap has captured the attention of many in the industry. The solar panels allow operators to run with zero-emissions while harnessing the power of the sun, effectively transforming trucks into mini renewable power stations on our roads.

Sunswap has already proven the potential to change the logistics industry through over 20 successful trials with major players such as Tesco, Muller, and leading transport operators. With 9 customers already on-board including logistics giant DFDS and British food manufacturer Samworth Brothers, there is real potential to shift the needle on emissions from transport refrigeration.

The adoption of sustainable refrigeration, can lead to substantial environmental benefits and cost savings for the logistics industry. By replacing just one diesel-powered TRU with a Sunswap unit, operators can annually remove 12 tonnes of tailpipe CO2, 115kg of NOx, and 5,400 litres of diesel from their carbon footprint.

The impact of widespread adoption is even more staggering. A medium-sized fleet could eliminate 48,000 tonnes of tailpipe CO2, 460,000kg of NOx, and 21.6 million litres of diesel over the lifetime of the units.

The Path to a Cleaner Cooler Future
To accelerate the adoption of sustainable tech, a collaborative effort across the logistics industry is essential.

Those responsible for managing supply chains have a vital role in promoting sustainability. One effective way to drive change is by incorporating environmental criteria into supply chain procurement processes, ensuring that all delivery activities, including refrigerated transportation, are subject to these standards. This approach can encourage the adoption of zero-emission tech and award those who have already made these investments. Operators recognise the inevitability of these requirements, so it falls upon procurement teams to take proactive steps towards making them a reality.

The hidden pollution caused by transport refrigeration is a pressing issue that demands attention. The impact of widespread adoption is truly remarkable. If half of the UK’s current diesel-powered fridges were switched to zero-emission solutions over the next decade, we could eliminate 3000 kilotonnes of CO2, 28,700 tonnes of NOx, and save on burning 1.3 billion litres of diesel into our atmosphere. This would be a monumental step towards creating a cleaner, more sustainable future.



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