SA green-tech company pilots 100% electric reefer trailers in The Netherlands

Image of a reefer trailer powered by Maxwell and Spark

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

20th October 2021

By: Irma Venter

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor


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Four companies have initiated a nine-month pilot project in The Netherlands, which will see diesel refrigeration systems in semi-trailers replaced by zero-emission battery-electric prototypes. 

This is the first time that refrigerated trailers are being run by 100% electric eco-sustainable power. 

The partnership is between South Africa’s greentech group Maxwell and Spark, consumer goods company Unilever, equipment service provider TIP Trailer Services, and transport company Daily Logistics Group (DLG),

The 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 between 20 t and 25 t of carbon dioxide per reefer trailer a year, with air-quality benefits for each vehicle the equivalent of taking 70 passenger cars off the road.

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

Maxwell and Spark has designed and manufactured the lithium-ion battery-based systems to power a Thermo King Advancer refrigeration system in two trailers. 

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

The purpose of the 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 to provide frozen food transport.

This system is being tested using 100% renewable electricity and will only use diesel as a contingency measure. 

“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,” says Maxwell and Spark CEO Clinton Bemont.

“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 European Union market has the potential for deployment at large scale.”

Maxwell and Spark has offices in South Africa and The Netherlands, and agents in Australia and the Americas. 

TIP Trailer Services in Europe has more than 50 years of expertise in managing and maintaining reefer trailers.

TIP believes that the cooperation with Maxwell and Spark will electrify the reefer industry with a scalable innovation. 

“I am very proud of the end results; besides time and costs my team added a lot of technical expertise,” says TIP VP Rogier Laan.

“TIP has seen its customers increasingly look to adopt cleaner and more efficient trailer solutions.”

DLG runs Unilever’s cold chain distribution network in the Benelux countries, and for this pilot, chose and trained dedicated drivers for the new trailers. 

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 between 40% and 50% by 2030.

“With logistics and distribution accounting for around 15% of our emissions, we are moving our cold chain to cleaner sources of energy,” notes Unilever Netherlands head of logistics and fulfilment Michelle Grose.

“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.”




Edited by Creamer Media Reporter



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