Some refrigerated straight-truck fleets operating in California must convert at least 15% of their trucks to electric transport refrigeration units by the end of next year.
Some may not be able to meet the deadline.
The rules are changing for mobile transport refrigeration units, commonly known as TRUs or reefers, that are mounted on straight truck chassis.
Operators of such equipment have until the end of 2023 to turn over at least 15% of their fleets to zero-emission refrigeration systems — or face sanctions, which can include grounding the entire fleet.
The California Air Resources Board said it developed this regulation to address what it calls toxic and harmful emissions from diesel-powered TRUs. These include diesel particulate matter (diesel PM), fine particulate matter (PM2.5), oxides of nitrogen (NOx), and greenhouse gases (GHG).
The rules apply to all diesel TRUs on straight truck or van chassis operating in the state, even if they are domiciled elsewhere.
The most significant part of the rule requires operators of vans and straight trucks to turn over at least 15% of their fleet to zero-emissions refrigeration systems each year for the next seven years. The deadline for the transition is Dec. 31, 2023.
But that’s not the end of it. Fleets will need to continue to turn over part of their fleet each year until they reach 100% zero emissions by 2029.
There also are two requirements that go into effect at the end of 2022:
- Lower PM emissions for railcar TRUs, TRU generator set engines, and domestic shipping container TRUs.
- The use of a new refrigerant with a global warming potential lower than 2200. The major transport refrigeration unit suppliers have made standard R452A, which has been available as an option for several years.
Both Carrier Transicold and Thermo King say end users will notice little operational difference with this new refrigerant compound, and both say they are already in compliance with this portion of the rule.
Sales of ICE Reefers Frozen
The TRU rule prohibits the sale of diesel-powered refrigeration units for medium-duty trucks in California by the end of 2023.
“As of Jan. 1, 2023, we can no longer pull any power whatsoever off of an internal combustion diesel engine in California,” says Bill Maddox, Carrier Transicold’s senior product manager for truck and trailer refrigeration.
While the TRU must be electric, trucks can still use internal combustion engines. There’s another rule in the works that will see zero-emission (battery-electric) trucks phased in at a rate of 10% per year over a prescribed period of time.
Since there are very few full battery-electric trucks available yet, there will be cases where customers will need to put an electric reefer unit on an internal combustion truck. That means the refrigeration units will need their own battery packs.
“It would be far easier and more straightforward if the electric reefer unit always married up to an electric truck and shared the same high-voltage battery,” Maddox says. “However, our solution needs the flexibility to do that and run off its own power supply for internal-combustion applications.”
Is the Market Ready for 2023?
Converting to electric TRUs is going to require significant adjustments in how fleets operate, starting with how to power an all-electric reefer unit on an ICE chassis. Obviously, it will need a battery pack of its own. It will also require charging infrastructure and power to run the unit in standby mode while it’s pre-cooling or after it’s loaded and staged for delivery.
Some larger fleets are well into the process of installing that infrastructure. Others will be caught off-guard by the initial cost and also the wait time to have that power supply installed.
Both Carrier Transicold’s Supra line and Thermo King’s e1000 line of electric reefers for Class 5-7 straight trucks require DC direct connections and can run off of standard industrial voltages such as 480-volt 3-phase. Subramanian says she has seen estimates of $15,000 to $20,000 for portable solutions. Installing a new 480 drop and installing a CCS (Combined Charging System) charging facility could run to the high hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“I think there is some level of anxiety over this, and I think even a bit of denial as well,” says Preeti Subramanian, senior product manager, truck products, at Thermo King. “Customers are talking to our dealers about this, and a surprising number of them seem to think, or hope, CARB might roll back the requirement. I think the uncertainty over how to proceed will disappear when they finally realize that CARB is not going to budge.”
Figuring out the mobile battery capacity is another hurdle. Maddox says a typical summer day with a lot of door openings will probably be in the 20-23 kilowatt-hour range in most instances, but it will vary by the length of the route and other variables. Telematics will help determine what’s needed, but there could be fleets with a handful of trucks on longer runs or with other extenuating circumstances that will require larger battery packs, adding weight and cost.
That could hit smaller fleets particularly hard. The alternative would be a full-electric truck from which the reefer unit could draw its power, but then you’re talking several hundred thousand dollars for the truck, the unit and the charging infrastructure.
It won’t be easy for some fleets, especially smaller operations, to get over the initial hump of converting all or some portion of their trucks to electric. There are subsidies and vouchers available to offset a significant portion of the cost, but the time to get infrastructure projects started is rapidly running out. Waiting until the last minute to decide a course of action, as many fleets did with ELDs, is definitely not an option.
This article appears in the November/December issue of Heavy Duty Trucking.