Four companies have collaborated for a nine-month pilot in the Netherlands, which will see diesel refrigeration systems in semi-trailers replaced by zero-emission battery-electric prototypes. This is the first time globally that refrigerated trailers are being run by 100% electric eco-sustainable power. The partnership is between South Africa’s greentech experts Maxwell and Spark, equipment service provider TIP Trailer Services, global consumer goods company Unilever, and transport company Daily Logistics Group (DLG).

This new innovation keeps freight chilled at temperatures down to -25°C and will be tested to run entirely on renewable electricity. If successful, it could save 20-25 tons of CO2 per reefer trailer annually, with air quality benefits for each vehicle equivalent to taking 70 passenger cars off the road.

Once the full pilot has completed, the technology could be rolled out further, providing a lower impact logistics solution.

The partners

1. Maxwell and Spark

South African green-tech pioneer Maxwell and Spark has designed and manufactured lithium-ion battery-based systems to power a Thermo King Advancer refrigeration system in two trailers. Clinton Bemont, CEO of Maxwell and Spark said, “This exciting collaboration builds on the work we’ve been doing over the last few years to replace fossil fuels in industrial and commercial environments. In 2016, we began investigating the viability of lithium-ion batteries with high energy density for transport refrigeration power and started selling our system in South Africa in 2018.

Our experience locally has been hugely positive, and this additional cutting-edge product for the EU market has potential for deployment at large scale.”

2. TIP

TIP Trailer Services in Europe has more than 50 years of expertise in managing and maintaining reefer trailers which proved to be crucial in this collaboration. This new type of reefer should be easy to operate, maintenance friendly, economically viable and independent from the tractor unit. Innovations and Sustainability are key pillars for strategic growth and TIP strongly believes that the cooperation with Maxwell & Spark will electrify the reefer industry with a scalable innovation. Rogier Laan, Vice President at TIP, said, “I am very proud of the end result; besides time and costs my team added a lot of technical expertise. TIP has seen its customers increasingly look to adopt cleaner and more efficient trailer solutions, and we want to be the best industry partner. We support innovative solutions that drive the industry to be more sustainable. So, we’re keeping a close eye on technical developments within our industry and regularly partner up with other partners, like Maxwell & Spark, to bring sustainable solutions to the market.”

3. DLG

The Daily Logistics Group runs Unilever’s cold chain distribution network in Benelux and for this pilot, chose and trained dedicated drivers for the new trailers. Joost Visbeen, CEO at DLG, said,

“DLG is convinced that transparency helps us to find safer and cleaner logistics solutions. By working with partners, we can offer sustainable transport options that reduce CO2, while ensuring continued customer and job satisfaction.”

4. Unilever

Owning brands including Magnum, Cornetto, Dove and Domestos, Unilever has set targets to halve the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions footprint of its products by 2030 and achieve net zero in its value chain by 2039. The company estimates that it will need to reduce GHG emissions from its logistics by 40-50% by 2030 and is committed to working with innovation partners to find new solutions and bring them to scale. Michelle Grose, Head of Logistics and Fulfilment at Unilever in the Netherlands, explained, “With logistics and distribution accounting for around 15% of our emissions, we are moving our cold chain to cleaner sources of energy. We are partnering with innovators to pioneer new technology and find new solutions. This journey of co-creation will provide us with valuable learnings and insights to help us lower emissions from our vehicle fleet.”

Technical specifications

The four trailers in this pilot will have a modified Thermo King reefer engine (Advancer A400) in combination with a specialized battery system from Maxwell and Spark (70 kilowatt-hours (kWh).

The purpose of this test is to run the reefer completely on electricity during working hours, charging the battery during inactive moments on location with a normal three-phase power connection.

The reefers are being used in the most demanding applications, providing service for frozen food transport.

This innovative system is being tested using entirely renewable electricity and will only use diesel as a contingency measure.