Wabash National (NYSE: WNC) is pushing the boundaries of thermal capabilities with what it is calling a zero-emissions refrigerated trailer. The unit, produced for customer C&S Wholesale Grocers, is being shown this week at the American Trucking Associations' (ATA) Technology and Maintenance Council (TMC) annual meeting in Atlanta.
"We've seen a lot of prototype and concept electric vehicles and trailers over the years, but no one has yet to demonstrate real viability of a roadworthy zero-emissions tractor-trailer for refrigerated hauls due to the location and size of batteries," Robert Lane, Wabash National's vice president of product innovations, said. "This is the first time a major box innovation has been coupled with a major TRU [transport refrigeration unit] innovation that results in breakthrough customer value in a sustainable format. MSC [molded structural composite] provides a unique platform for electric-powered TRUs. The large gain in thermal efficiencies allows a customer to either downsize the batteries required to haul cargo or increase the run time on a battery setup."
Using MSC technology, Wabash said it is able to make the 48-foot trailer 30% more thermally efficient than a traditional refrigerated trailer. The result is that refrigeration units can run fewer hours and for all-electric units, that means smaller batteries.
"We're putting units into our fleet that depend heavily on solar and battery power for the truck and TRU," said Chris Trajkovski, vice president of fleet maintenance and DOT safety compliance at C&S Wholesale Grocers. "We think the additional protection that comes from the Wabash MSC insulation package will be a nice match for the TRU technology so the reefer is not running, to help us make the delivery efficiently. We expect the TRU to work less with Wabash National's composite design."
C&S is the largest wholesale grocery supply company in the U.S. It will operate the trailer in California.
Mark Ehrlich, senior director of engineering for Wabash, said the trailer represents the combination of technologies – electrification and MSC – that make it zero emissions. MSC technology is actually in over 250 Wabash trailers today, but the addition of the electric refrigeration unit from Carrier is new. The trailer also has 53 feet of solar panels on the roof that assist with the power needs for the refrigeration process, he told FreightWaves.
"Where our technology comes into play is if I can make the box more thermally efficient, you don't have to use as much shore power or battery power," Ehrlich said.
To further improve the thermal efficiency of the trailer, Wabash has eliminated the use of aluminum posts and uses all non-conductive materials. The same MSC material is used in the roof and floor, which Wabash has been able to make stronger with the new manufacturing methods.
"In regard to the floor, we've been able to produce a higher capacity floor... that opens up more [revenue] opportunities," Ehrlich said.
The electric refrigeration unit adds between 400 and 500 pounds in batteries to the weight of the trailer compared to a diesel unit, but Ehrlich noted that in grocery applications, weight is not as much of a concern for C&S. The unit also returns to a base each night where it can recharge.
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