The plan for emission-free truck refrigeration

Reading, UK: The UK government’s target of Net Zero by 2050 is enshrined in law. But how does industry meet that challenge? A major new report from the Cold Chain Federation takes on this challenge to achieve emission-free truck refrigeration.

The Cold Chain Federation’s new report sets out the first ever plan for how the UK coldchain can transition, with the right support from government, away from Transport Refrigeration Units (TRUs) reliant on diesel power and high GWP (Global Warming Potential) refrigerants to emission-free alternatives.

The Journey Towards Emission Free Temperature-controlled Distribution on Road Vehicles report is the result of 18 months of consultation with TRU operators, TRU and trailer manufacturers, refrigeration experts, innovators and other cold chain and logistics specialists.

It is the latest report in the Cold Chain Federation’s Net Zero Project, which aims to bring together industry and government to accelerate the transition to a more efficient and lower emission future cold chain. The UK government’s target of a Net Zero economy by 2050 is now enshrined in law and decarbonising the cold chain represents a crucial part of the solution, through minimising the significant emissions associated with food waste. But it is also an energy-intensive industry necessitating the requirement to reduce energy consumption and emissions in both cold storage and temperature-controlled distribution.

As well as pressure from the 2050 commitment, the transition towards emission-free refrigeration on vehicles (and towards net zero more widely) is also becoming a commercial imperative for many cold chain operators as fuel and energy prices rise and businesses with linked emissions across the cold food chain make their own net zero commitments to reduce supply chain emissions. The Cold Chain Federation estimates there are currently 30,000 refrigerated trailers operated by UK transport businesses and a further 40,000 temperature-controlled vans and rigid vehicles. While decarbonising the main combustion engines of all light and heavy goods vehicles is a focus of research for a range of other associations and agencies, the Cold Chain Federation’s new report focuses specifically on how businesses and Government can together tackle the complex challenge of emissions from TRUs.

The transition phase and emission-free phase
The Cold Chain Federation report details the changes that industry and Government should work towards together, from 2021 until 2030 (the Transition Phase) and then from 2030 – 2040 (the Emission-Free Phase). For each element of both phases, the Cold Chain Federation report details specific support from Government that will be required to enable cold chain businesses to achieve this vision for the future. Key elements of the Transition Phase include the ongoing adoption of emission-free or lower emission alternatives to diesel, improvements to the efficiency of TRU operations and use of lower GWP refrigerants, with new zero emission technologies taken from trial into full operation.

During the Transition Phase, businesses in the cold chain can take a number of interim measures before commercially viable emission free technology and the required supporting infrastructure becomes widely available. This includes monitoring diesel and refrigerant usage and increasing transparency of reporting; undertaking regular and complete maintenance of refrigeration equipment; reducing the number of vehicles on the road and the number of journeys undertaken, for example by reducing empty running; and more efficient methods of refrigerated trailer design and operation.

Urban or last mile delivery should be able to switch to fully electric vehicles and refrigeration by 2025, while separately diesel-powered TRUs can reduce the quantity of diesel used through hybrid drive systems, usage of Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO) fuel, and through manufacturers of TRUs improving efficiency and reducing air quality emissions from their existing fleets. By 2030, the federation believes the majority of all types of refrigerated vehicles will derive their power, either from the main vehicle’s engine or from lower emission fuels, such as HVO and biofuels. Early adopters of ‘smart battery’ powered trailers will achieve emission free refrigeration independent of the main engine.

These changes will facilitate the end of new diesel TRU sales by 2030, 10 years ahead of the banning of diesel HGVs in 2040. The Transition Phase will pave the way for the second stage set out in the new Cold Chain Federation report: the Emission-Free Phase from 2030 to 2040. By 2040, the majority of remaining auxiliary diesel TRUs should leave the road as they reach the end of their usable life. Technological advances in smart batteries will likely result in the majority of trailers utilising this technology to power their TRUs while some TRUs may still use hybrid systems. Advances in cryogenics could also see alternatives emerge which provide a single source to power both truck and TRU. Adoption of natural, or ultra-low refrigerants will eventually remove emissions from this source (although exact timelines require further research). With most GHG and air quality emissions removed from TRUs, any remaining direct emissions will be from ageing diesel TRUs nearing the end of their lifecycle.

Overcoming the Barriers
The Cold Chain Federation report identifies three key barriers to achieving this roadmap to emission-free refrigeration on vehicles which the Government measures listed above will help to overcome. The first barrier is the current lack of clarity from Government on its strategy for investing in infrastructure and financial support to trial and adopt developing technologies.

To give fleet operators confidence in deciding which technology to back, Government should detail its expectations for the technological landscape in 2050, for the adaptation of the power and transport network, and which technologies will be supported by infrastructure investment.

The second key barrier relates to maintenance and operator confidence. In an industry which centres around reliable, resilient and time critical service on very low operating margins, it will take time for operators to have the same confidence in the support network for non-diesel technologies as they have in their current equipment.

There is a significant training need that comes with a transition away from the dominant longstanding technology. Affordability and investment is the third major barrier. Currently, lower emission technologies are more expensive in upfront cost than a diesel auxiliary powered option. There are opportunities in offsetting upfront cost against running costs but the lifespan and resale opportunities for new technologies is hard to quantify reliably.

The Cold Chain Federation is therefore calling for targeted Government financial support to assist businesses to invest in developing low carbon technology and accompanying infrastructure. This support should include buying incentives on zero emission technology, scrappage grants for older equipment, carefully designed with industry to avoid the issue of ‘stranded assets’, tax incentives, and support on the huge costs associated with grid connections for electric chargers.

Government and industry playing their parts
The Cold Chain Federation report sets out four ambitious but realistic targets for the cold chain industry as a pathway to emission-free refrigeration on vehicles. It also shows the specific Government actions that will be needed to enable cold chain operators to meet those targets.

  • The four targets for the cold chain industry are:
  • No transport refrigeration units to be sold into the UK market containing refrigerants with a GWP (Global Warming Potential) of more than 300 by 2025
  • No transport refrigeration units should use refrigerants with a GWP of more than 300 by 2035 (in line with Kigali agreement)
  • Ambition that no new diesel TRU should be placed on the UK market after 31 December 2029
  • No vehicle operating on UK roads should be using a diesel powered TRU after 31 December 2039
  • The Cold Chain Federation’s report says that industry can only meet these four targets if the right policies are enacted by government, backed up by targeted support. It says that government must:
  • Provide a clear deployment strategy for the technologies which will be backed to become widespread in the future
  • Provide a clear investment strategy to facilitate the installation of electric charging for vehicles and temperature-controlled trailers at depots and rest points, including addressing grid connection issues
  • Support the implementation of the plan with effective regulation to support industry efforts to better understand the number of refrigerated vehicles on UK roads and to maintain, or remove, older trailers from the road
  • Support the investment in trials or adoption of lower emission technologies through buying incentives, such as direct grants on qualifying technology, additional tax incentives or allowances and by ensuring that research funding is allocated to realistic solutions
  • Ensure temperature-controlled operators are taken into account when developing the freight system of the future as outlined in the Transport Decarbonisation Plan

Access the full report at www.coldchainfederation.org.uk

Shane Brennan, chief executive, Cold Chain Federation
“Net Zero will be the defining challenge for most UK industries over the coming three decades, and the cold chain is no exception. As well as increasingly stringent regulatory requirements, reducing energy consumption and minimising emissions are fast becoming commercial imperatives too. Cold Chain Federation members want to keep making progress towards a net zero future, even as our industry tackles the exhausting cumulative burden of the people shortage crisis, disruption from Covid and major challenges related to post-Brexit changes. Our new report shows how we can tackle the thorny TRU challenge which is key to the cold chain’s net zero future, and why Government must start to play its part properly too.

But the technology is not ready and the infrastructure is not in place. Our ambition is achievable but only with meaningful Government action to help us address the infrastructural and economic barriers. We have presented this report to the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy; and the Department for Transport, and we will update Cold Chain Federation members about the Departments’ responses.”

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