From: Allison Winter, ENN
Published August 23, 2013 12:09 PM

Refrigerated Trucks To Use Fuel Cell Technology

In order to transport our favorite ice creams, frozen foods, and fresh produce, certain trucks are equipped with powerful refrigeration systems often powered by small diesel engines. These engines are constantly running all the way from the manufacturers of these frozen goods to the market in order to keep these groceries frozen or cool. As a result, refrigeration trucks tend to use more energy and resources to run.

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In an effort to reduce some reduce emissions and use a quieter, more efficient alternative to these refrigeration units, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory are overseeing a project that will use an alternative energy source: fuel cells.

A project using trucks whose refrigeration units are powered by this clean technology will be conducted in Texas, California and New York.

The fuel cells will do the work normally done by a small diesel engine, which keeps the cargo at the proper temperature while the trucks are making deliveries. Each of the four trucks will still be equipped with a main diesel engine that actually powers the truck.

Researchers conducting the experiment believe this will be the first time that refrigerated trucks making deliveries have been equipped with a fuel cell — a device that creates electricity by driving chemical reactions using hydrogen and air. The only byproducts are heat and water.

"This is a great application for a fuel cell," said Kriston Brooks, the PNNL researcher leading the project. "A trailer refrigeration unit traditionally is powered by a small diesel engine or electric motor that drives compressors to provide cooling to the cargo. A fuel cell can potentially provide a clean, quiet and efficient alternative by powering the electric motor."

Industry officials estimate that approximately 300,000 refrigerated trucks with auxiliary power units are on the road in the United States. By replacing the small diesel engines with the more efficient fuel cell, users will see fuel savings of approximately 10 gallons a day per unit, in addition to reduced emission of pollutants and significantly quieter operation.

"Accelerated fuel cell use in this application is also expected to create jobs in the energy sector, increase fuel cell manufacturing volume, decrease costs, and catalyze a stronger domestic supplier base," said Jamie Holladay, PNNL's sector manager for fuel cell technologies.

Fuel cells are becoming more common as energy sources in buildings and in vehicles such as buses. While the devices are generally more expensive than traditional forms of energy generation, many scientists and product developers expect that as they become more widely adopted and production levels increase, their cost will come down, similar to what has happened to products like cell phones.

Read more at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

Refrigerated truck image via Shutterstock.

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