We have written a lot about zero-emission trucks, but when it comes to hauling perishable goods such as frozen foods, tractors are only half of the equation. The reefer unit also needs to use energy in order to offset the second law of thermodynamics (that is, keep cold items cold). Wabash National, a manufacturer of trailers, is combining solar power with electric technology to sell the most thermally efficient reefer on the market.
Wabash National has partnered with eNow for solar power and Carrier Transicold for all-electric refrigeration. They have combined the two to make a refrigeration system that runs on the sun.
Solar panels require a lot of surface area to make a small amount of energy, so the system Wabash National employs must be quite impressive.
“This is the first time a major trailer innovation has been coupled with a major TRU [trailer reefer unit] innovation that results in breakthrough customer value in a sustainable format,” says Robert Lane, Wabash National’s vice president of product innovations.
Lane also says that a solar system should put less strain on the battery, reducing the needed size. This lower battery weight would further increase the energy efficiency of the system.
Wabash National says that diesel-powered reefers cost fleets in the United States hundreds of millions of dollars in costs. These costs could otherwise be saved by using a fully electric system. Regardless if this claim has validity to it or not, it is hard to argue the pollution impact solar power has compared to diesel: zero.
From natural gas-powered trucks to solar-powered reefers, it seems the trucking industry is never done innovating.
It will be interesting to see what the industry develops next to keep the nation running. Perhaps trailer companies will use the entire surface area of a trailer as solar panels to help energize the tractor. Although it would not be enough to move the truck on its own, it would be able to help with small tasks such as headlights and radio that reduce fuel efficiency slightly.
This suggested technology is simply conjecture, but with the trucking industry recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, the future of trucking looks the brightest it has been in a while.