Why diesel costs will soon matter

London, UK: In 2022 the tax rebate on diesel used in fridges will disappear, adding an estimated £150m to the cost of transporting temperature-controlled goods, according to the Cold Chain Federation’s costings.

Until now, many operators have been indifferent to diesel fridge running costs. But the number will soon become important: a typical fridge trailer could easily cost an additional £5,000 a year when, in April 2022, red diesel will cost an extra 46p per litre at today’s prices. The decision to rescind the red diesel rebate, widely condemned by the transport industry, is unlikely to change.

Assuming an average burn of 4 litres per hour at 2,500 hours a year per the cost of diesel in a fridge soon mounts. Put a duty hike to standard diesel levels on top of that and the running cost for the fridge alone come to around £10,000 a year.

And this takes no account of the carbon footprint of diesel fridges which is becoming more of an issue for many buyers of refrigerated logistics.

Dearman has developed a nitrogen-powered refrigeration system and has been lobbying hard for an end to the red diesel rebate to make the system more financially attractive. Hubbard is to make and market Dearman’s low-carbon refrigeration system.

Hubbard is to make and market Dearman’s low-carbon refrigeration system

Pat Maughan, managing director, Hubbard said: “We have reviewed the Dearman technology and concluded it has enormous potential to revolutionise both the emissions and costs inherent in refrigerated road transport.

Without the lower costs of red diesel it makes sense to use the truck engine to power the fridge which has been the basis of Frigoblock’s refrigeration package for rigids for many years. Frigoblock’s acquisition by Thermo King (now part of Trane) has seen the technology extended to create hybrid trailer fridges using the tractor engine as the power source. Thermo King has used the Frigoblock technology to make a hybrid trailer range. The Frigoblock water-cooled asynchronous alternator combined with an inverter provides constant voltage and frequency to the unit regardless of vehicle engine speed.

The move to electric systems for truck fridges, where the diesel engine powers a generator, has made alternative power sources much easier. Most fridges have an electric socket to take power from an electric supply to power the fridge when the truck is parked or trailer uncoupled. It is this ability that Hultsteins uses with its Ecogen hydraulic-drive generator. Like the Frigoblock system, a generator is connected to the engine power take-off. It then plugs in to any refrigeration unit that has mains electric operation.

The system is easily retrofitted and has caught the interest of many operators. FreshLinc is testing the Ecogen system using several of its Scania tractors as the power source for the trailers. “We knew we had to come up with a more cost-effective solution for when the rebate on gas oil is withdrawn” said Andy Marchant, fleet engineer, FreshLinc.

“Plus, as part of our ongoing policy towards environmental protection, we are keen to see how much the system can cut the level of pollution associated with conventional diesel fridge engines.”

FreshLinc is testing the Ecogen system using several of its Scania tractors as the power source for the trailers

Hultsteins calculates that an average fridge system consuming around 3-5 litres of diesel per hour and running for 2,500 hours per annum will produce approximately 26 tonnes of carbon per year and with an expected price hike of around 46 pence per litre for red diesel, this also amounts to an additional annual cost of around £5,700 per fridge trailer.

“These figures simply cannot be ignored,” says Graham Usher, managing director, Eco Truck Fridge, the Hultsteins sales agent in the UK.

“Not only from an environmental standpoint but also commercially, Ecogen can help temperature-controlled operators mitigate the potential impact of running a conventional fridge system,” he says.

FreshLinc’s test system is fitted to a Scania but Ecogen can be retrofitted to any truck with a PTO. The system does not replace the existing refrigeration system, but works in tandem with the fridge to provide a cheaper and less harmful power source while extending the life of the fridge. With operators inherently conservative when it comes to new technology, the tried and tested nature of the Ecogen system appeals. Swedish company Hultsteins, which makes the system in the UK, launched the first fossil-free hydraulic refrigeration unit in 1962. Hultsteins has been in the UK market since 2018, and bought British company Cold Connect in 2019.

Buffaload Logistics has fitted Hultsteins’ on-board electric generators to all its tractors to eliminate diesel consumption and emissions from the temperature-controlled trailer fleet. The move follows a trial of the UK-made Ecogen system. For the trial it was fitted to a Scania 6×2 and worked for 230 hours over approximately 50,000kms. Buffaload says the results were incredible with no additional consumption from the tractor unit.

Buffaload Logistics has fitted Hultsteins’ on-board electric generators to all its tractors to eliminate diesel consumption and emissions from the temperature-controlled trailer fleet

Buffaload expects a return on investment of 21 months and given its simple design, based on several decades of technology use, the Ecogen system is not expected to add additional maintenance. “I first operated an identical system to this one, 25 years ago, it was as bullet-proof then as it is today,” Ross Taylor, chief executive, Buffaload. says.
He was especially pleased with the tractor fuel consumption figures from the trial. “At first, we couldn’t believe the figures. But sure enough, the Ecogen, connected to the tractor’s PTO, ran the fridge unit perfectly for around two months and not a drop of diesel was burned,” Taylor says.

“Effectively, we were saving an average of four litres every hour while the fridge was running. Put simply, the system gives us diesel-free and pollution-free refrigeration, while adding literally no cost to the operation – apart of course from the initial outlay.”

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